Hong Kong first considered road-pricing back in the 1980s. It was the pre-digital era, and wealthy philanderers panicked at the prospect of the government’s space-age electronic system monitoring their Mercedes and Rolls-Royces coming and going from love motels in Kowloon Tong, so officials dropped the idea.
The bureaucrats have apparently reconsidered it ‘several times’ since. No-one remembers when, exactly – it’s all a vague blur of intentional inaction. As traffic gets more and more congested, the concept of road-pricing becomes ever more abstract and unthinkable. Only 10% of Hong Kong people drive a private car, yet Overwhelming Massive Insurmountable Mouth-Frothing Public Opposition prevents us from reallocating road space to benefit the other 90%.
The South China Morning Post story gives the impression that this time it’s different. A guy called Ringo who likes to drive down Queens Road to go to meetings has noticed that pedestrians are moving faster than he is. He would be OK with paying, say, HK$20 if he could speed through Central more quickly.
When the SCMP reporter asked the smug-looking idiot why he didn’t just walk like everyone else… Oh no – the reporter didn’t ask that. Sorry.
Officials have used all their skill and ingenuity to make sure the new proposal would have no effect. It covers just 14 roads in the central business district (out of 3,822 or something elsewhere in the city). And, reading between the lines, the pricing will have to be at an ‘acceptable’ level – in other words, low enough to ensure Ringo and other drivers can continue using their gleaming cars to enter the area.
You see, they have to drive because public transport is already overcrowded.
Given this twist, the logical solution is surely this: the government should charge pedestrians and people who ride on buses to enter Central – with the funds raised going to subsidize Ringo and other private car owners who so selflessly avoid burdening the public transport network.
But rest assured that nothing will happen. This is bureaucrat-run Hong Kong in 2019 – even a road-pricing system that doesn’t reduce traffic is doomed.