Sunday, October 16, 2005

Doing a "Buangkok"?

The recent big news in Sydney (besides sports lah... sports is ALWAYS big news in Australia) has been on the Cross City Tunnel. Initially, I was totally oblivious to these going-ons. But I keep hearing about it on the news on TV, if I do switch it on that is. And the headlines of the local papers simply yell it out to me whenever I walk past a newsagency. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I did a little reading up on it.

The tunnel was conceived to funnel away traffic from the city area which has been getting increasingly congested. Major construction began in January 2003, just a couple of months before I came over, and opened for use on 28th August 2005.

Right from the opening of the tunnel, there has been controversy and protests. Reason? The toll charges. To get through the 2.1km stretch, one has to pay at least AU$3.56 (depending on size of car and the tag/pass you hold). And that is one-way. So for someone who uses it to commute to work, it would be over AU$7. Daily. Expensive siah, even by Sydney standards! Small wonder that that the usage of the tunnel is much lower than forecasted, 21,000 vs 90,000 a day.

Instead of lowering the tolls to attract drivers to use it, they proceeded to close off lanes of the roads above ground. That really got the commuters incensed and protests intensified (That was when I started noticing this fiasco). And of course, the traffic conditions in the city worsened.

Now here comes the funny bit. The hands of the Road Transport Authority are tied on this issue because of the State (of NSW) government's contract with the Cross City Motorway (the consortium that is running the tunnel). Oh and incidentally, the Cross City Motorway holds the concession to run the tunnel for the next 30 years.

Finally, in the face of overwhelming pressure and protests, a concession was announced last Thursday (13th October). Most important part of it is the toll-free period of three weeks. Now it would be really interesting to see i) if everyone starts using the tunnel in these three weeks and ii) what happens after the three weeks are up. Also, g
iven that the tunnel costs a hefty AU$680 million to construct, I openly wonder if the Aussies will do a "Buangkok".

166 days to go.


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