Not so fast: Hong Kong delays new e-toll system aimed at speeding up commutes

Transport Department pushes back launch to May 7 to allow more time for public to apply for vehicle tags and learn about scheme.

Hong Kong authorities have pushed back the introduction of an electronic toll payment system designed to speed up commutes to May after drivers complained about little advance warning and an excess of red tape in applying for the scheme.

The Transport Department on Monday said the launch of HKeToll would take place on May 7, rather than February 26 as first planned. The department also said measures would be rolled out to help drivers apply for the services more easily.

“We hope to allow people more time to understand the procedures of applying for the vehicle tag and how to link the system to a driver’s account,” Commissioner for Transport Rosanna Law Shuk-pui said.

“We also hope those who have concerns will have more time to understand the operation of the scheme.”

Traffic at Tsing Ma Bridge toll booths.

The department announced on January 6 that the new e-toll system would be used on the Tsing Sha Highway connecting Tsing Yi and Sha Tin. It would be gradually implemented at all government tolled tunnels this year to replace the existing manual and automatic toll booths.

The system is intended to help drivers save time as they can pay tunnel fees by using a toll tag, without having to stop or queue at booths. The removal of the toll booths is also designed to help straighten traffic lanes, which should speed up the flow of cars.

Tags are provided to drivers free of charge after completing an application with the department.

But the scheme has sparked complaints. Some drivers said it had been pushed through hastily, leaving them no time to understand how it worked, while others blamed red tape for lengthy waits to have applications processed.

A department spokesman said it would set up more than 20 consultation counters across the city this month to help car owners to apply for the e-toll services.

“To further assist the taxi trade in applying for and using HKeToll, the department will also add dedicated service points for taxis to handle HKeToll applications to expedite processing their applications,” the spokesman said.

Legislator Chan Hok-fung, a Legco transport panel member, blamed poor planning for the chaos.

“It looks more like a half-baked scheme,” said Chan, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. “Officials have not considered carefully and underestimate the complexity of the issue for professional drivers.”

Citing taxi drivers who often shared vehicles, he said: “The day shift driver will need to apply for a tag and link it to his account, while the night shift driver will have to do the same. But they are driving the same taxi.

“It is apparently not the problem with the technology, it is the problem with the administration. I received complaints that some drivers had to wait a month to get their application processed.”

Ringo Lee Yiu-pui, president of the Hong Kong Automobile Association, shared similar views.

“We welcome the delay. There is no need to rush. The government raised the idea many years ago and it does not harm to wait for another three months so as to allow more time to do things in a more proper manner,” he said.

According to the department, as of midday on Monday, more than 430,000 vehicle tags had been issued.

The postponement is the second transport-related controversy courted by government agencies in a week.

On Sunday, authorities were forced to suspend the online booking system for the government-run car park at the newly opened Heung Yuen Wai control point, after some drivers overstayed their time slots causing chaos for people with pre-bookings who had no place to park.