Information Paper for
Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Transport

Compatibility of the Existing Autotoll Systems


1.This paper informs Members of the autotoll systems being used in Hong Kong and discusses possible options for resolving the problem of compatibility.


2.The first automatic toll collection system (hereinafter referred to as autotoll system), called Autopass, was installed at the Cross Harbour Tunnel and the Aberdeen Tunnel in August 1993. The same system was also used at the Lion Rock Tunnel, Eastern Harbour Crossing and Western Harbour Crossing. A second autotoll system, the Electronic Toll Systems (ETS), started operation at Tate's Cairn Tunnel in May 1996 and was extended to Shing Mun Tunnel and Tseung Kwan O Tunnel in October 1997. The ETS will also be used in Tsing Ma Control Area and the future Tai Lam Tunnel of the Route 3 Country Park Section.

3.The installation of autotoll systems in both government and private tunnels is subject to approval by the Commissioner for Transport (C for T). However, the choice of autotoll system is a commercial decision of the tunnel operator. C for T also has the power to demand removal of an approved autotoll systems under the private tunnel ordinances.

The Problem of Compatibility

4.The two existing autotoll systems in Hong Kong are not compatible. Motorists have to subscribe to both systems if they wish to enjoy the benefits of autotoll at all toll roads.

5.Until now, the electronic tolling industry has not developed common standards which will ensure compatibility of products manufactured by different suppliers. There is also no international or national standards which we can use as reference to ensure compatibility of autotoll systems in Hong Kong. It is not practical for Hong Kong to develop its own standards because of the small size of the local market and industry. The United States, Japan and Europe are currently trying to develop or to agree on a set of common national standards which may become available in a few years.

6.The only way to ensure compatibility in the absence of international or national standards would be to approve one type of autotoll system only. This approach was not considered appropriate because of changing technologies in the electronic toll collection field. It is difficult for Government not to approve a more advanced system which has better features. It is also not advisable for the Government to create a monopoly through administrative measures which go against the principles of free trade and fair competition.

Possible Options to Resolve the Incompatibility Problem

7.In response to public criticisms about the inconvenience and possible confusion of carrying two in-vehicle tags, Transport Department has examined various options for addressing the problem.

to withdraw approval of one system so that only either Autopass or ETS would continue to operate at all toll roads.

Option II-to provide two autotoll systems arrayed in series at one toll lane, viz. to add ETS to the same autotoll lane but at some distance apart for tunnels already installed with Autopass, and vice versa.

Option III-to provide two systems side by side on adjacent toll lanes, viz. to add ETS to separate toll lanes for tunnels already installed with Autopass, and vice versa

Option IV-to develop a common sensor which can read both Autopass and ETS tags.

Option V-to maintain the status quo for the time being.

Implications of the Options

Option I - Withdraw approval of one system

8.C for T could consider withdrawing approval for one autotoll system and replacing it with the other system. This option has the following disadvantages :

  1. For the private tunnels, although it is within the power of C for T to direct tunnel operators to remove the autotoll system previously approved, the operators can appeal to the Chief Executive-in-Council under their tunnel ordinances, or apply for judicial review and claim damages against the Government. There would also be substantive disruption and inconvenience to motorists who had subscribed to the system being abolished.

  2. In the case of government owned tunnels, the management contract does not provide sufficient legal grounds to require the management contractors to remove the approved autotoll system. Similarly, the government tunnel operators may apply for judicial review and claim damages.

  3. It is undesirable to create a monopolistic situation as explained in paragraph 6 above.

Option II - Two systems at one toll lane

9.Under this option, sensors for reading both types of vehicle tags have to be installed at the same autotoll lane. Vehicles will pass under the two sensors in turn and only those which are without valid tags or which fail to effect payment under both systems will be video-taped by the integrated enforcement system. Significant integration of the two existing autotoll systems is necessary to ensure that enforcement actions are triggered for real evasion cases only. This requires co-operation between the two system suppliers and disclosure of proprietary information of their systems. The following problems are anticipated :

  1. As both sensors are installed in the same toll lane, mutual radio frequency interference will affect the accuracy of the autotoll systems.

  2. Being competitors, the system operators would not be willing to co-operate or to disclose confidential proprietary information. There is no legal authority for the Government to mandate such disclosure.

  3. As each autotoll system is a proprietary product, it will be difficult to find a competent consultant/contractor to carry0 out the detailed study and design works for the integrated system if the system suppliers refuse to disclose their confidential proprietary information.

  4. There is no legal provision in the BOT ordinances and TD's tunnel management contracts to require the private and government tunnel operators to install more than one autotoll system.

  5. The set-up cost of equipment and operation cost for handling daily transaction will be significantly increased as compared with a single autotoll system. This may lead to an increase in the monthly subscription fee.

  6. Significant funding will be involved in developing (including field trial) and implementing the integrated system as well as settling possible claims from the existing autotoll service providers.

  7. It may take three to four years to develop and implement this option. However by the end of this period, emergence of international/national standards or adoption of ERP may render the developed products outdated and obsolete and hence a total waste.

Option III -Two systems at different toll lanes

10.Under this option, some manual toll lanes have to be converted to autotoll lanes. Preliminary investigation reveals the following potential problems :

  1. Even if the two systems are installed in different lanes side by side, there may still be mutual radio frequency interference which will affect the accuracy of the systems. The extent of interference may be less than that in Option II.

  2. If the two systems are installed at separate lanes of some distance apart, cross weaving of vehicles (in particular last minute vehicle weaving) towards the designated autotoll booth increases the risk of accidents.

  3. Conversion of manual toll lanes into autotoll lanes would lead to congestion especially during peak hours. There are insufficient toll lanes in some tunnels (such as Lion Rock Tunnel and Cross Harbour Tunnel) to implement this Option.

In addition, this Option has the same problems as (c) to (g) under Option II.

Option IV -Common sensor for both systems

11.This option requires research work to design and develop a common sensor that could be used to read both types of system tags. Although the other lane equipment such as the enforcement CCTV cameras, could largely remain unchanged, the sensor technologies employed by the two autotoll systems are completely different. One system uses read-only technology to read the tag identity while the other adopts read-write technology which writes back the account balance onto the tag after reading. This basic difference in sensor design and tag data format makes it very difficult to develop a common sensor. Furthermore, other tasks involved in integrating the new common sensor with the existing equipment of the two systems are formidable and will also require co-operation from the two system suppliers as well as disclosure of confidential proprietary information. The whole process would be technically more difficult and more time-consuming than Option II.

Option V - Maintain the status quo for the time being

12.New technologies are being tested in the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) feasibility study. If the feasibility is confirmed and if it were decided to implement ERP in Hong Kong, then the collection of tunnel tolls could be incorporated into the ERP system. It will then not be necessary for motorists to subscribe to the autotoll system separately. It is possible that the autotoll companies may claim compensation from the Government for the loss of business. The legislative, financial, institutional and operational aspects of the ERP option will be examined in the current ERP study.

13.If it were decided not to implement ERP upon the completion of the feasibility study, it is possible that, by that time national standards might have developed in United States, Europe or Japan. We may adopt one of these standards, with modification if necessary, for use in Hong Kong. The autotoll companies or tunnel operators may claim compensation under the existing franchises or management contracts.

Conclusion and Way Forward

14.Autotoll service in Hong Kong is provided and operated by the private autotoll companies on a commercial basis. Use of this service is entirely voluntary. Motorists has the option of using the manual toll lanes.

15.Whilst Government encourages tunnel operators to offer motorists the choice of autotoll, it is not appropriate for the Government to restrict approval to a single system as this would create a monopoly situation which goes against the policy of free trade and fair competition. This, coupled with the legal and financial implications, renders Option I highly undesirable.

16.Options II to IV entail significant technical difficulties in integrating the two existing autotoll systems and would require system suppliers to disclose confidential proprietary information which is highly unlikely. The lead time for implementation also makes these options redundant in view of the possible emergence of new national standards in a few years' time and the possibility of ERP being implemented in Hong Kong in the longer term.

17.In view of these findings, we intend to maintain the status quo until a decision is taken on whether to implement ERP in Hong Kong or when new national standards are available.

Transport Bureau
October 1997