【明報專訊】TRAFFIC flow on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge reached a new high on the first Sunday after its opening, with long queues forming at Hong Kong Port. Despite the frequent deployment of shuttle buses by their operator, crowds of people remained stranded for a long time, and some complained that they had been waiting for more than two hours. The SAR government had put much effort into controlling traffic flow to prevent congestion in the vicinity of Northern Lantau Island. But its plan to control the flow of people was not well-thought-out. Early into the bridge's operation, the shuttle buses (the so-called "golden buses") are already hitting a bottleneck, which is a reflection of the government's inadequate preparations and problematic responses to unexpected issues. The SAR government must remedy the situation and coordinate with the governments of Zhuhai and Macao and operators of shuttle buses as well as cross-border buses to study how to cope with the sudden surge of passenger flow in holidays.
It is less than a week since the bridge's opening. Traffic flow has been limited, as the bridge is used daily by around 3,000 cars on average, just around 30% of the original estimate. During holidays, however, the passenger flow not only reaches the target but also exceeds expectations. On Sunday, Hong Kong port had more than a thousand people queuing for "golden buses" heading to Zhuhai and Macao at dusk. Moreover, there were long queues of people on Monday morning waiting for departure from Hong Kong. According to figures by the Immigration Department, 58,710 people entered or left Hong Kong through Hong Kong port on Saturday, which was within the estimated range of 55,850 to 69,200 people for the first time after the beginning of its operation. On Sunday even more than 80,000 people went through the port. Some departing visitors complained about the low frequency of golden buses and the arrival of mostly single-deck buses rather than double-deckers. They waited for more than two hours before they managed to get on a bus.
When the bridge opened last week, President Xi Jinping said that it was necessary to "use and manage the bridge properly", while Vice-premier Han Zheng expressed the hope that "first-rate transportation services will be provided on the strength of a first-rate bridge and a first-rate port". He called on governments of the three regions to further simplify the procedures and shorten clearance time so as to tap into the bridge's capability. Judging from what happened last Saturday and Sunday, the operation of the bridge was definitely not satisfactory. It is true that the sudden surge of passenger flow might have been attributable to the fact some visitors were just after the novelty and spent the holiday for a one-day visit to Hong Kong via the bridge. However, after the opening of the bridge, it is expected that people from the three regions using the bridge to travel between Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macao will only increase. If the government does not solve the problem as soon as possible, the situation of long queues on weekends and during holidays will only worsen.
The "golden bus" operator has said it is considering the purchase of more buses. However, "while the grass grows, the horse starves," as the saying goes. Before there are more buses, the government has a responsibility to discuss ways to deal with the situation with the Zhuhai and Macao authorities and bus companies. The government has to review whether the number of drivers is just enough in the sense that it can only handle normal passenger flow but not sudden surges during holidays. Apart from a review of the frequency of golden buses to enhance efficiency, the government should also discuss the matter with cross-border bus companies with a view to bringing onto the road more cross-border buses that shuttle between the regions so as to relieve the burden on golden buses. It should even consider mobilising other bus companies to help address the crowds during "peak seasons".
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