By Lee Wang-yam, RFA
This article first appeared in RFA on 24 October 2018
Link to original article: HERE
The world’s longest sea-bridge–connecting Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau across China’s Pearl River estuary–opened to thin public traffic on Wednesday, with delays at both ends caused by the shuttle-bus system and immigration computers.
“I think that the updated details didn’t reach the system, so now it can’t read my card,” one traveler told RFA on arriving at Zhuhai in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, long lines formed in the former Portuguese enclave of Macau for shuttle buses to the immigration hall, prompting frustrations among travelers, while a shuttle bus broke down in Hong Kong.
In Macau, drivers of new bus services linking the cities via the bridge said poor signage meant they were unable to find the border checkpoint, and were left driving around the city looking for clues.
Local media reports indicated that some of the first people to drive along the 55 kilometre (34-mile) bridge, which dives under the sea just off Hong Kong’s Lantau Island, to Zhuhai in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong did so in just 30 minutes, however.
And some passengers said the trip was “a dream come true.”
“I have waited for years for this, and now my dreams have become reality,” one passenger said. “I think a lot of people will use it in future.”
The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s chief in Beijing hailed the bridge as as “great news” for the whole country.
“This can be called a modern wonder of the world,” Cai Qi told journalists on Wednesday, a day after the formal opening ceremony led by President Xi Jinping.
Some Hong Kong residents, especially in the Tung Chung new town near Hong Kong’s international airport on Lantau Island, said they fear rising rents, prices and traffic congestion as a result of increased traffic over the bridge, however.
“Prices in Tung Chung are already quite high, and will the stores now be more oriented to tourists rather than residents?” former lawmaker Bill Tang said of a district that already hosts busloads of mainland Chinese shoppers at a mall specializing in discounted labels.
“In particular, there is already a lack of smaller shops,” he said.
The bridge has also been criticized for laborious insurance requirements and limited parking spaces, as well as the need to pay toll fees (set at 150 yuan per private car) in China’s currency, rather than in Hong Kong dollars.
However, those taking a bus across to mainland China will pay as little as H.K.$65, with services running 24 hours a day, local media reported.
Shuttle buses connect to the immigration halls at either end of the bridge, while those who buy non-stop bus tickets must disembark to go through immigration at both ends.
One passenger on the bridge said they thought it would soon replace the high-speed jetfoil and hoverferry services currently preferred by those heading to the casinos of Macau, or to Zhuhai and points north.
Immigration process delays
However, some reports comparing the modes of transport to Macau said the high-speed ferry took 1 hour, 40 minutes compared with a total of two hours for the bridge route, with the immigration process and shuttle bus blamed for the additional delay.
Transport Secretary Frank Chan, who visited the area, said it was normal for such major infrastructure to see light usage on day one of public operation.
“Everyone should understand that in the early days of any infrastructure opening, there are always going to be fewer people and less traffic,” Chan told reporteres. “It will take time to build up.”
Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) member Helena Wong said there weren’t enough parking spaces for drivers needing to go through immigration.
“If we don’t set a limit, and just allow cars from other cities to come to Hong Kong, and if incoming tourists aren’t stopped … and transferred to buses, it will increase congestion on Hong Kong’s roads,” Wong said.
Hung Wing-tat, transportation expert at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University, said the bridge could see lower-than-expected traffic volumes as a result of the ongoing trade war between China and the United States.
Others said the bridge may just become a tourist attraction, rather than a reliable way to commute to and from mainland China.
“I am not optimistic about whether the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge can meet the required standard,” Helena Wong told RFA, pointing to two other major bridges planned for the Pearl River delta.
“Hong Kong will face great competition, and I can’t see us recuperating our investment for another 20 or 30 years,” she said.
The authorities said by 3pm on Wednesday, a total of 868 trips made through the world’s longest bridge that connects Hong Kong with the mainland, of which 297 were made towards Hong Kong, RTHK reported.