Category: Transport Department

More cars headed for S. Lantau as govt ponders extra permits

South Lantau drivers look set to face even more competition for space and parking spots.

The Transport Department says it is ready to implement the “second phase” of its permit scheme which allows vehicles from outside Lantau to enter the closed road area.

Since February 2016 the department has issued one-day permits for up to 25 private cars and 40 tourist buses under its Driving on Lantau Island Scheme (DLS).

The department said in a statement it had reviewed the scheme in the light of “the continuous improvement” in Lantau transport and road facilities  and had taken into account “utilisation of the quota, public demand, road conditions and transport facilities… as well as conservation concerns.”

Transport Advisory Committee (TAC) chairman Prof Stephen Cheung said on Tuesday the committee welcomed the plan, which members believed would “assist members of the public to visit South Lantau as well as support its economic and community development.”

The department has not spelled out what it means by “second phase,” but given its satisfaction at the scheme so far it almost inevitably means lifting the quota.

Its original proposal in 2015 was to allow 50 private cars and 50 buses per day.

While the increased number of cars is a small increment among the 2000 or so daily vehicle trips that take place inside the closed road area, the lifting of the quota would realize critics’ fears that the number would face continued pressure to be raised.

An even bigger problem is that the increased volume of vehicles would further strain South Lantau’s already-stretched parking capacity.

Even with the new and larger car park. Mui Wo is almost permanently full. Pui O, Upper Cheung Sha, Tong Fuk and Tai O are all but maxed-out as well.

The Transport Department said it will consult stakeholders in the next few months.

New double-decker bus to run on 3M route from Q3

This is the new double-decker bus that will run between Tung Chung and Mui Wo, starting in the third quarter.

New Lantao Bus Co (NLB), which released the photo this week, says the new bus can carry 88 passengers, up 40-50% from existing single-deck vehicles.

The buses are timed to come into service after residents start moving into the new HOS apartments in Mui Wo, NLB says.

The two HOS estates are expected add approximately 2,000 people to Mui Wo’s population of 5,400.

NLB has ordered ten air-conditioned low-floor vehicles to run on the 3M route.

Each bus can carry 47 passengers on the upper level and 41 seated or standing on the lower level.

The company says it ran trials in June 2016 and November 2017 – in the latter testing it out on the entire 3M journey.

The 3M is the only public transport link between Mui Wo and Tung Chung and is severely crowded during rush hour periods.

But the Transport Department (TD) says the current service has “roughly” enough capacity to support demand.

In a paper submitted to the Islands District Council last October, it said that according to a survey, hour the highest level of bus occupancy at peak hour was 81% in the Mui Wo direction and 88% in the Tung Chung direction.

The TD says the new buses will be equipped with a closed-circuit TV and a ‘black box’ so NLB can monitor the condition of the dirver and the bus operation for safety purposes.

It says fare, route and frequency on the 3M route will remain unchanged after the introduction of the double-deckers.

It is not the first time double-decker buses have run on Lantau roads.

Prior to the construction of the Tsing Ma Bridge in 1997, two-decked buses used to run between Mui Wo and Tong Fuk to carry passengers to and from the ferry pier.

Councillor condemns govt over slow progress on Tung Chung West station

District Councillor Bill Tang has condemned the government over the lack of progress in building out the MTR line to Tung Chung West.

He said the government’s 2014 railway strategy had “made a clear commitment” to extend the Tung Chung Line out to western Tung Chung by 2024.

Construction of the new station, which would service Yat Tung, the new Area 39 and forthcoming Tung Chung West projects, was due to start in 2020, Tang pointed out at last week’s Islands District Council meeting.

But so far the MTR Corp and the Transport & Housing Bureau had given no indication of the progress and had not begun any public consultation.

“As I understand it, initial design, research and exploration take 18 to 24 months, followed by public consultation and detailed design,” he said, suggesting the government was at risk of falling behind its target of a 2020 start.

Tang, who represents Yat Tung North on the Islands District Council, said the lack of progress showed the government was “neglecting the livelihood of the people in the district and deserves to be condemned.”

In a written response, the Transport Bureau said it had received a proposal just last month from MTR Corp on possible development the Tung Chung East and West stations. But it could give no further details.

“The actual implementation of the project will depend on the subsequent detailed engineering, environmental and financial research findings, and the latest assessment of passenger demand and the adequacy of resources,” it said.

The government has not set a precise timetable for the Tung Chung West residential development, but has said the first people are likely to move in in the early 2020s.

Preliminary work on the project, which will provide 14,000 apartments near Shek Mun Kap and Lung Tseng Tau, is now underway, the CEDD said in a submission to the District Council in December.

But work on Housing Authority apartments in Tung Chung area 39 , adjacent to the YMCA College, is nearly complete. It will provide 3,800 rental apartments that will hold an estimated population of more than 11,000.

Photo (top): Nearly-completed Housing Authority project at Tung Chung Area 39

N. Lantau Highway traffic up 40% over four years

North Lantau Highway traffic has increased by more than two-fifths in recent years, according to Transport Department (TD) figures.

The department believes the freeway has enough capacity to cope with extra vehicles brought by major new projects on North Lantau, such as the HZM Bridge and the Tung Chung expansion.

However, Transport and Housing Secretary, Frank Chan, acknowledged in a reply to Legco yesterday that the department had not done any analysis of major roads in central Tung Chung.

The TD had forecast that the volume to capacity ratio of North Lantau Highway during peak hours in 2021 would be about 0.7 and that the traffic flow would not be saturated, Chan said.

TD figures show that morning airport-bound traffic on the freeway averaged 3,750 vehicles an hour in 2016, up 41% over the 2012 level. Afternoon Kowloon-bound traffic had also registered a significant increase over the period, up 41% to 3,500 vehicles an hour.

But vehicle numbers on Shun Tung Road, the major approach from Tung Chung to the airport, grew by as much as 31% over the 2012-16 period.

However, the department had made no forecast on traffic growth on Shun Tung Road or adjacent Tat Tung Road, Chan said.

Traffic growth (Source: Transport Department)

Holden Chow, local member of both Legco and the Islands District Council, said residents had expressed concern that major expansion projects would make local traffic congestion even worse.

Chan said that for future North Lantau projects the government would require traffic impact assessments and mitigation proposals to ensure the transport infrastructure could cope with the additional traffic flow.

He said the Civil Engineering and Development Department is currently conducting a study into Lantau’s transport infrastructure and services. It is expected to report in early 2019.

Following the release of the Hong Kong 2030+ plan, the Transport and Highway departments would carry out an assessment of railways and major roads for 2031 and beyond.

Photo (top): tksteven via Wikimedia Commons

Transport Dept calls on NLB to cut costs after “not satisfactory” financial result

The Transport Department says it is encouraging New Lantao Bus Co to find ways to cut costs after a first-half result that was “not satisfactory.”

The bus operator, a subsidiary of listed Kwoon Chung Bus Holdings, reported a HK$3.6 million loss in the first six months which it attributed to higher operating costs, including fuel and wages.

However, despite warning earlier in mid-2017 of the need to rationalise services to save money, no cuts were made.

The TD said that after winning the tender to service two new routes to the HK-Macau bridge border crossing, and with new housing developments in Mui Wo and Tung Chung, “it is anticipated that NLB’s financial performance will be improved.”

In a statement, it said it would “encourage NLB to explore measures to control costs with a view to improving its financial performance.”

But while no major rationalisation was required, the department would closely monitor passenger numbers and “implement rationalisation of bus services as and when necessary.”

Closed road: daily quota may be doubled

The Transport Department is considering doubling the number of private vehicles allowed into South Lantau each day.

Since February 2016, up to 25 private cars and 40 tourist buses have been permitted into the Lantau closed road area each weekday.

Now, because of what the department regards as the success of the scheme, it is planning to increase the quota to 50 cars and 50 buses, Sing Tao reports.

The paper notes that, apart from the requirement that five of the 25 private cars be electric, the private vehicle quota is full almost every day for the next month.

The proposed higher quota takes the TD back to its original plan, floated two years ago, of allowing 50 cars and 50 buses in daily.

It trimmed the numbers for the start of the scheme following an outcry from the local residents.

Chau Chuen-heung, a former DAB district councillor and now vice-chair of the Lantau Development Advisory Committee’s transport group, said that because the vehicles can only enter Lantau between 8 am and 7 pm on weekdays, they would avoid the weekend crowds.

She said the district’s concerns were over the lack of parking spaces.

However, besides the limited parking facilities, local residents are also anxious that once the closed road was lifted, the number of vehicles would continue to rise under pressure from local businesses and rural leaders.

With news of a plan to hike the quota, those fears have not been allayed.

Mui Wo bus & ferry operators to add capacity but not new services

Lantau bus and ferry companies are adding capacity to meet the expected spike in passengers next year, but have no plans to schedule extra services.

With Mui Wo’s population expected to increase by as much as 40% in the second half of 2018, First Ferry has ordered five new large vessels and the New Lantao Bus Company is tendering for double-decker buses,

But First Ferry says even with the new boats it won’t have capacity for new services.

Transport, police and Hospital Authority officials as well as public transport operators appeared before the Islands District Council meeting early this week to explain how they are preparing for Mui Wo’s growth spurt. As many as 2000 residents will move into two new Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) estates starting next August.

First Ferry has bought five new 423-seat vessels – previously the largest carried just 403 passengers – and says two are already in service. The other three will be deployed from the first quarter of next year.

New Lantao Bus Company is planning to run double-decker buses on the 3M route between Mui Wo and Tung Chung. It said it held a successful trial early this year and has just tendered for 14 double-decker vehicles.

First Ferry communication manager Chow Suk Man told the council morning peak-hour fast ferries were currently running at 80-90% capacity. Already one of the new large ferries is being deployed at 7am from Mui Wo.

But in response to Councillor Randy Yu, who asked if a backup ferry could be deployed in morning peak period, Chow said there was not enough spare capacity.

“If there are school trips or organisations planning to take this particular ferry, and if we are informed in advance, we can arrange a spare ferry for such occasions,” she said. But there was no spare ferry for a permanent arrangement.

Chow acknowledged it was difficult to plan without knowing the exact numbers of likely passengers. The company had requested information from the Transport Department about the size of the working population.

NLB vice chairman Chan Ching Lung said the company believed the double-decker buses could increase carrying capacity by 40-50%. The bus operator runs four special services from Pui O each morning which are 70-80% filled, he said.

Randy Yu sounds alarm on Mui Wo population growth

District Councillor Randy Yu has called on government, police and transport providers to explain how they will cope with Mui Wo’s coming population boom.

The opening of two Housing Department estates in Mui Wo next August will add 700 new homes and increase the population by between 1,700 to 2,000 – a huge spike from the current level of around 5,400.

“The public is greatly concerned about the lack of community facilities,” Yu said in a question tabled to the Islands District Council.

Local residents are worried about the carrying capacity of the ferry and bus services, inadequate parking for cars and bikes, the level of medical services and the lack of police.

Yu, who represents South Lantau, said his office has even received calls from those who have purchased homes in the new estates expressing concern about the expensive ferry fares.

He called on the Transport Department, the Hospital Authority, police and the ferry and bus companies to attend next week’s District Council meeting to explain how they will address these issues.

Govt apologises over tollbooth congestion, increases capacity

Traffic at the Lantau Link tollbooths has returned to normal after yesterday’s chaotic opening day.

Acting Transport Commissioner Macella Lee has apologised over the congestion and has added extra booths at the toll plaza.

Traffic backed up as far as Tsuen Wan and the Tai Lam Tunnel on the first day of the two-way toll, introduced ahead of the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in the coming months.

In a press conference after visiting the site yesterday, Lee acknowledged there was room for improvement in preparation for the switch to two-way tolls. RTHK reported.

“The way the barriers are put and the traffic signs for the motorists can also be improved,” she said. Lee said the department has also increased the number of booths to six, from the four that operated in the morning.

The Transport Department said it would closely monitor traffic around the tollbooths.

Traffic cams at the Lantau Link Plaza and Kap Shui Mun bridge this morning showed no sign of congestion.

Traffic chaos: Cars backed up for miles in botched two-way toll launch

Lawmakers have called for the suspension of the two-way toll on Lantau Link expressway after a chaotic first day of operation.

Vehicles were backed up for hours in the westward lanes today after imposition of the new toll from early this morning.

The congestion is caused by the lack of toll booths, with the Transport Department clsoing off booths in five airport-bound lanes until December.

Ben Chan, chairman of the Legco Transport Panel, attacked the Transport Department for underestimating the traffic flow. He called on the department to suspend the two-way toll until all the facilities were ready.  According to RTHK:

The Tsing Ma Bridge, Tai Lam Tunnel, and even Tuen Mun Road became almost paralysed in the direction of the airport for a number of hours on Monday morning, as tailbacks spread further and further back from the Lantau Link Main Toll Plaza.

A number of toll booths there are still not fully constructed and several approach lanes are closed.

RTHK photo of the westbound queue this morning

Chan, a DAB member, said the Transport Department planned to open another two toll booths on Tuesday, but he believed that would not be enough to alleviate the congestion.

“This morning I drove from Yuen Long to Tsim Sha Tsui and passed the link. I got jammed there for more than half an hour. I think this arrangement is not so clear for the drivers,” he said.

Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan warned that traffic on the Lantau Link could be paralysed next month when students go back to school after the summer holiday.

Chief Transport Officer Wendy Leung suggested drivers’ lack of familiarity with the new arrangement might be causing them some time to find the cash to pay the toll.

The new arrangement, introduced ahead of the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, means car drivers pay HK$15 in each direction rather than HK$30 on the eastbound lane only.