Opinion – Empty lanes

The bridge connecting Macau to Hong Kong and Zhuhai has completed its first year of operation. The gigantic work was often the subject of questioning. What can we say after one year?

Two outcomes are well discernible. In the first place, the bridge had a substantial impact on sea connections to Hong Kong. Links to and from HKIA and the city piers declined significantly. A couple of links a day from the airport and just one more the other way reflect a fast fall into disuse of the service. Other city destinations also have fewer services than before. A lot of traffic diversion took place.

No more the feisty HK terminal hall end-of-the-day ambiance, as loads of excursions got ready to return to the mainland via Macau. They can now go directly to Zhuhai through the bridge. For many travelers from Macau, the bridge also provides an easy option to get to and from the airport. Especially for those unencumbered by luggage, or subject to particular locomotion limitations.

Other than that, it is still not obvious how such a big infrastructure can be justified in terms of its actual or potential users. The results from the first year are indeed modest. How many people and vehicles did the oversized arrival and departure facilities accommodate during the last twelve months?

The movement of vehicles is limited to passenger buses and private cars.  The figures look quite unimpressive when framed on a daily basis: about fifty a day of the former, and around 350 of the latter.  As this encompasses links to both Zhuhai and Hong Kong, one is bound to marvel at the immense privilege entitled to a few private cars – and also the unfulfilled potential for integrated services to the airport.

In terms of people crossing it, the numbers are not much more uplifting. On average, less than fifteen thousand people entered the city through the bridge every day, which brings us to about ten people per hour. When, if ever, the gigantic arriving and departure halls, the size of football fields, will even look moderately busy is anyone’s guess.

The bridge never made much sense for goods transportation. Both HK and Macau have enough problems of congestion to be willing to avoid compounding them. Other alternative connections in the delta are and will always be probably more convenient. One year on, the central question still not answered is: what’s the economic sense of the investment made here?