Hong Kong considers adopting open road tolling

As the government spearheads plans to turn Hong Kong into a smart city, local advocate, the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute (HKPRI), calls for full implementation of open road tolling (ORT) to realise “smart mobility”.

The ORT system allows tolls to be collected on toll roads without the vehicle slowing down or stopping. The charging console reads the data storage unit, which is known as in-vehicle unit, fixed on the passing vehicle to collect tolls.

The HKPRI says implementing ORT could help save 2.07 million hours and time value of $124 million every year.

So many tolls

The institute derives its estimates from the total 248,008,937 toll road transactions for the nine toll points, accepting the Lantau Link, made last year.

“Assuming each vehicle must stop for one minute to pay the road toll and currently half of the vehicles are doing so, the total time saving for 50 percent of the transactions will be about 2.07 million hours per year,” says Dr Wing Wing-tat, a researcher commissioned by the HKPRI.

“Taking the time value of toll road user as $1.0 per minute, the money saved is $124 million per year,” he explains.

On Thursday, the HKPRI unveiled a survey that found 75 percent of the 1,106 drivers interviewed agreed to adopt ORT in Hong Kong.

Currently, around 50 percent of the vehicles still use stop-and-go payment method instead of auto-toll.

Mostly good, but…

While the majority of the drivers the HKPRI interviewed supported the use of ORT, they also raised concerns about administration fee, personal data handling as well as responsibility of in-vehicle maintenance and level of inconvenience.

“The track records of relevant experience of the potential operator in addressing the concerns of the toll road users are also of vital importance,” Dr Hung says.

Nearly 60 percent of the drivers said the Transport Department
 should handle personal data.

And the absolute majority of drivers prefer cashless payment, either by credit or debit cards.

“Cashless payment in all transport charging systems is the global trend. International cities like Beijing, Shanghai, London, Paris, Singapore and Tokyo have been advancing the technologies in the last few decades. It is time for Hong Kong to catch up with this trend,” the HKPRI says.

3 techs to choose from

Researchers say three ORT technologies have been adopted in Asia, Europe and America. They are: dedicated short-range communications (DSRC); global navigation satellite system (GNSS); and, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR).

“The DSRC assisted with ANPR is the best potential ORT system for Hong Kong, which has already been used for years on local auto-toll,” says Dr Hung.

DSRC requires a radio frequency signal emitter to communicate with the in-vehicle unit, while GNSS does so with a global positioning system receiver.

On the other hand, ANPR does not require an in-vehicle unit but uses CCTV to capture the license plate images.

Out of the twenty worldwide ORT systems reviewed, all nearby Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea, India and Singapore employ DSRC. Singapore will even employ GNSS for its electronic road pricing system in 2020.

Not just cars – licenses too

“To expedite the implementation of this territorial-wide ORT system, the government should consider upgrading the paper format vehicle license to a smart card or tag format and bearing all the administrative costs,” says Dr Hung.

He adds that the government should implement the ORT in stages to minimise confusion and disturbance to the public.

HKPRI says if ORT is in place, not only will drivers save time, especially during the non-peak hours, but road safety will also be improved through reducing the vehicles’ weaving movements in lane searching.

Furthermore, the land required for the toll plazas will be significantly reduced and can be released to meet other pressing needs.

Environmentally speaking, the vehicle fuel consumption and exhaust emissions will be reduced owing to fewer vehicle stopping and starting movements.

The research group says the a territorial ORT system should not only be limited to toll road application and calls for further studies.

“[The system] should be extended to paying other transport infrastructure facilities such car parking. The wider application of ORT system should be further studied,” it says.

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