The potential of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, which opens today, has been underestimated by some experts due to their low expectations of its logistic functions. The bridge will in fact play a crucial role in promoting the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.
According to research by the One Country Two Systems Research Institute, the mega-bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai will have limited effects on freightage but a significant impact on passenger traffic.
The bridge’s transport function will focus on passenger traffic. In recent years, thanks to the close relations between the western Pearl River Delta, and the Macau and Hong Kong special administrative regions in areas such as tourism, cross-boundary consumption and service trade, passenger traffic among the three regions has been on the rise.
The bridge will give a big boost to cross-boundary passenger traffic, slashing travel times compared to the existing circuitous land routes. It will also be more economical, flexible and stable than travel by sea. Demand for cross-boundary passenger transport is projected to increase significantly as a result.
And prospects for the bridge’s traffic volumes have received a boost from two policies.
The first is that the bridge tolls for vehicles will be driver-friendly – between 60 yuan (Bt280) and 300 yuan per trip.
Frankie Yick Chi-ming, the lawmaker representing the transport sector, believes his constituents will find the tolls acceptable. This is because there will be significant savings in fuel costs if drivers use the bridge to get to the cities on the west bank of the Pearl River, instead of travelling all the way to Shenzhen and then taking Humen Bridge, which connects Guangzhou to Dongguan.
The second policy concerns drivers of private cars. As unveiled by Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress, the authorities are considering issuing one-off permits which will allow Hong Kong residents to drive into Guangdong province for short trips. The idea is to let Hong Kong drivers without a mainland licence apply for a permit online and drive around Guangdong for a short period after entering the province through designated ports.
Along with other favourable policies which have already been implemented, the operation of the bridge will almost certainly enhance regional integration.
Greater cooperation and collaboration between Hong Kong and the western Pearl River Delta, as part of the Bay Area initiative, is a major part of the bridge project.
The western Pearl River Delta is currently focused on developing modern service industries, with emphasis on closer cooperation and collaboration with Hong Kong, and using a professional-service-industry zone as a platform for industrial development. When the bridge is operational, Hong Kong’s service industries will find it easier and more convenient to expand into the mainland market. Hong Kong should proactively seek stronger cooperation with the western Pearl River Delta in the construction of service industrial zones, as this would help lay a solid groundwork for industrial development in western Pearl River Delta.
The bridge is also likely to boost tourism. Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, all blessed with strong tourist magnets, have positioned recreational tourism as a key industry. The bridge will make multi-stop journeys within the region much more convenient and attractive. To seize these development opportunities, the three regions should further coordinate tourism resources and adopt convenient exit-entry practices for tourists. This would help create a Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau tourism cluster.
The bridge has the potential to help invigorate the Bay Area, particularly the western part of the region. However, as economist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus once said: “Our challenge is to translate this extraordinary potential into meaningful change.”
Paul Yeung is research officer at the One Country Two Systems Research Institute, Hong Kong.