Picture the queue of cars on a typical weekend heading into the carpark under the Workers’ Stadium at the Border Gate. It is tedious at the best of times. The slow crawl around from under the Portas do Cerco overpass in the left-hand lane, taking your turn ever so patiently to sit with hand brake on up that little ramp waiting for one more car to exit before another can enter. You hope the motorbikes dodging the bumper don’t scratch the Duco.
Today, it seems worse than ever; even worse than the years when those 200 or so dust-covered drowned carcasses damaged by typhoon Hagupit in September 2008 lay idle underground taking up valuable car-park real estate while the parties argued over culpability. Was it really only in 2016 that they finally cleaned up that mess?
Imagine, a couple of weeks after your jaunt across to Zhuhai you get slapped with a MOP300 fine, a traffic infringement, by the Macau authorities. Apparently you’ll not be the only one. What for? You may well ask. Stopping on a road with a continuous yellow line for more than 9 minutes.
For just over 10 years I’ve been doing that run, parking in that carpark, sometimes twice or thrice of a weekend depending upon sporting activities and the direction of arbitrage between the Macau and Zhuhai markets. It is not as if there are a great deal of options around for parking. This however, was the first time that someone had been watching; someone counted the minutes passing by and determined that these cars were standing still for too long.
Granting the technicalities of the infringement, the reason behind the fines is not entirely the fault of the drivers. In the last 10 years the number of licensed motor vehicles has increased from 72,534 to 248,812, an over 3.4-fold increase. Back then, on a 6 am drive over the Friendship Bridge (in those days, a time considered an early morning up rather than a late night out) you might even be the solo car for most of the way.
There are simply too many cars, too few parking spots, and other transportation options are inadequate. The lack of parking space here is caused by a growing population with growing wealth not planned for or managed, leading to an overburdened infrastructure. Car-parking has gone up in price but people with means simply adjust to new norms – the price of convenience – and it has not seemed to have dampened demand.
The market mechanisms of higher costs in terms of time, money (petrol, parking, wear and tear), difficulty of conveyance, frustration, and lost productivity do not seem to have done much to turn the tide.
The government is reluctant to take a decisive move on Macau’s traffic congestion. We have no new taxes, no restrictions on car numbers and any updates to our transport infrastructure will be 15 years too late.
The laisse-faire approach taken by Macau is certainly one strategy. Like any over-populated colony, at some point it will start to implode, but Macau drivers have proven to be more resilient, more patient, more forbearing than most.
With this latest imposition of traffic fines, as Macau grinds to a gridlock, we’ll be taxed for standing still. What an idea! It might just force the less wealthy of us off the roads, or maybe back onto scooters.
Who needs new policies anyway? There appears to be tools enough in the regulatory kitbag to nudge market mechanisms along – an additional MOP300 at a time.