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Editorial : Overcrowding at Tung Chung must be addressed

【明報專訊】PASSENGER FLOW on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) has reached a new high, with tour groups from the mainland cropping up at Tung Chung on two consecutive weekends. As some of these tour groups were neither approved by the mainland authorities nor registered with the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, it is suspected that they were irregular. Since the opening of the HZMB, the SAR government has been focusing on the prevention of traffic congestion without giving much thought to how the surge in people will put a strain on the Tung Chung community. Such a lack of consideration has caused chaotic scenes one after another. Not only are complaints from Tung Chung residents everywhere, but tourists also think that they are paying for an unenjoyable experience. The government must discuss the matter of irregular tour groups with the mainland authorities as soon as possible. It should, at the same time, come up with ways to divert the crowds and upgrade the ancillary facilities so as to reduce the strain on the community. Otherwise, new conflicts between China and Hong Kong might be triggered.

More than 100,000 people entered or left Hong Kong via the HZMB on the second Sunday after its opening. Some of them were on single-day tours. They departed from Zhuhai to appreciate the bridge and, having crossed the border through Hong Kong Port, stayed for a while before returning to Zhuhai. Many of these tour groups involved are suspected of illegal operation. Not only did they lack approval from the mainland authorities, but they also failed to register with the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong 48 hours before they visited Hong Kong, which is required by the regulations. Furthermore, they were not received by a Hong Kong travel agency. Tour leaders who worked as tour guides after they arrived in Hong Kong were in fact working illegally.

These irregular tour groups did not have a specific itinerary after their arrival in Hong Kong. Most of them just arranged for the tourists to take a bus to Tung Chung, the nearest place to the bridge, where they took a rest or went shopping. As a result the town centre of Tung Chung was "bursting at the seams", with eateries and shops crowded with tourists. At dusk, when the tourists were due to return to Zhuhai, hundreds of them formed long queues at Tung Chung's bus stations, waiting for buses that would take them to the Hong Kong Port of the bridge.

True, the string of missteps that happened soon after the bridge's opening had been expected. However, over the past two weeks, there was first the incident of "golden buses" failing to cope with the demand, resulting in long queues at Hong Kong port, which was followed by the huge number of irregular tour groups packing the Tung Chung town centre to capacity. All this shows the government's lack of consideration of the problems caused by a surge in people.

The government formulated the Concept Plan for Lantau as early as the year 2004. Back then, it was suggested that northern Lantau Island should be the focus of the development of primary economic infrastructure as well as tourist and leisure facilities. But there has been a lot of hemming and hawing for years, and progress has been slow. The first phase of the SkyCity project, initiated by the Airport Authority Hong Kong, was completed in 2008, but the second phase is still in an initial stage. As for the 150-hectare artificial island for the Hong Kong port of the HZMB, it is still on the drawing board. The HZMB has opened, so will the third runway of the airport in five years at the earliest. This means that more visitors will come to and leave Hong Kong. As northern Lantau Island is the bridgehead for tourists' entry and departure, it is necessary for the government to come up with a comprehensive plan and swiftly increase the capacity of the whole area of northern Lantau Island. More hemming and hawing will only put increasing pressure on regions like Tung Chung.

明報社評2018.11.06:慎防中港矛盾復熾 東涌迫爆急須疏導

港珠澳大橋客流量再創新高,東涌連續兩個周末出現大批內地旅行團,部分沒有批文亦未有向香港旅遊業議會登記,疑屬非正規旅行團。特區政府因應大橋開通,重點只放在避免塞車,沒有設想人流驟增對東涌社區的壓力,思慮不周導致亂象接踵而至,不僅東涌居民怨聲載道,遊客亦覺得貼錢買難受。政府必須盡快跟內地磋商,處理違規旅行團問題,同時設法疏導人潮,改善配套設施,減輕社區壓力,否則有可能觸發新一輪中港矛盾。

港珠澳大橋開通第二個星期日,超過10萬人次出入境,當中有部分人是參加即日來回的旅行團,從珠海出發參觀大橋,來到香港口岸過關後,短暫逗留一會便返回珠海。這些旅行團很多都涉嫌非法經營,除了未獲內地批文,亦未有按規定在來港前48小時向香港旅遊業議會登記,沒有香港旅行社接待。負責帶團的領隊來到香港,實際兼任了導遊,形同黑工在港非法工作。

這些非正規旅行團來港後沒有特別行程,一般只安排團友坐公共巴士到最近大橋的東涌歇息和購物,結果導致東涌市中心「迫爆」,食肆商店擠滿遊客,到了黃昏回程時間,更有成百上千的旅客在東涌巴士站排長龍,等候乘坐開往大橋香港口岸的巴士。

大型交通基建開通初期「甩轆」,雖說是預期之內,然而過去兩周先有「金巴」不勝負荷導致香港口岸「打蛇餅」,再有大量非正規旅行團迫爆東涌市中心,無不反映政府思慮不周,忽略人流驟增問題。

政府早於2004年已制定大嶼山發展概念計劃,提出將北大嶼山作為主要經濟基建及旅遊康樂設施發展重心,惟計劃拖拉多年,進展相當緩慢。由機管局推動的SkyCity航天城發展項目,第一期於2008年竣工,第二期仍然處於起步階段,至於港珠澳大橋香港口岸150公頃人工島發展計劃,也只有初步構思。港珠澳大橋通車之後,機場第三跑道最快5年後亦將啟用,意味本港將有更多旅客出入境,北大嶼山是旅客出入的橋頭堡,政府必須做好全盤規劃,加快步伐提高整個北大嶼山的承載能力,繼續拖拖拉拉,只會令東涌等地區面臨愈來愈大的壓力。

■Glossary

be bursting at the seams : to be very full, especially of people

misstep : a mistake; a wrong action

on the drawing board : being prepared or considered

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