A total of 157 private cars from Hong Kong entered the city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge on Saturday — the first day of a new travel scheme for private vehicles from the special administrative region, according to Zhuhai authorities.
The "Northbound Travel for Hong Kong Vehicles" scheme, which allows private cars owners from the SAR to drive to Guangdong via the bridge without having to apply for a Chinese mainland private vehicle registration plate, was hailed by car owners and Hong Kong's transportation chief as "convenient and efficient, taking integration of the Greater Bay Area to a higher level".
At nine minutes past midnight on Saturday, a Hong Kong car bearing license plate number LL7999 became the first private vehicle from the city to enter Guangdong under the new policy. It took only a few seconds for it to pass through customs clearance using the "one-stop" clearance system.
The vehicle's owner — a Hong Kong resident surnamed Lee – said he was excited about being the first driver to cross the HZMB under the new policy.
"I felt incredibly lucky," he said.
Lee, who went to Zhuhai for a two-day visit, said the new policy has made travel to Guangdong much more convenient, and the customs facilities are excellent. He had applied for the permit early, but said he didn't expect to be among the first batch of drivers to get the green light. He planned to explore business opportunities in Zhuhai, go sightseeing and visit friends.
As the first Hong Kong car owner under the scheme, Lee was greeted with a bouquet of flowers when he arrived in Zhuhai on Saturday, which also marked the 26th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to motherland.
Fang Zhibo, a senior officer from the border inspection station of the HZMB, said his station has opened 22 car inspection lanes to help handle vehicle clearance procedures during peak traffic periods.
"The current vehicle handling capacity is nearly 600 vehicles per hour, which is about 20 percent higher than the previous handling capacity," he said.
Within the first hour of the policy coming into effect, 11 private vehicles from Hong Kong had entered Guangdong via the HZMB, figures by Hong Kong government showed. By 10 am on Saturday, more than 40 such vehicles had passed through the bridge.
A vehicle is allowed to stay in Guangdong province for 30 consecutive days upon each entry and a maximum of 180 days per year.
Before the scheme was implemented, Hong Kong car owners had to obtain cross-boundary vehicle licenses carrying Hong Kong and mainland car plates to travel to the mainland. Eligible applicants for these permits are usually business owners and high-skilled professionals.
At a launch ceremony of the new policy on Saturday, Secretary for Transport and Logistics Lam Sai-hung said it would make it easier for Hong Kong residents to conduct short-term business, travel and official activities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, taking the region's integration to a higher level.
More than 16,400 people had applied to participate in the scheme since officials started taking applications on June 1. Among them, 7,700 were selected via computer balloting.
Lam said 4,000 eligible applicants lodged formal applications, with 400 of them having been issued permits so far.
According to Lam, the application process takes about 10 working days if vehicle owners provide full information, including details about their vehicle and the driver. They also need to fulfill vehicle inspection and insurance requirements.
Hong Kong vehicles have their steering wheels on the right side, while those on the mainland have steering on the left. Recognition of car plates from Hong Kong also poses an issue for Hong Kong vehicle owners driving in Guangdong.
The Guangdong provincial department of public security urged Hong Kong drivers to study and familiarize themselves with traffic regulations on the mainland. All traffic accidents occurring in Guangdong will be handled according to mainland traffic rules and relevant regulations, the department said in a statement on Saturday.
Shenzhen, Guangdong, is also preparing for an expected surge of cars with Hong Kong plates. Shenzhen's traffic bureau said the upgrading of parking lots to recognize license plates from Hong Kong has been prioritized in places such as busy commercial areas and at hospitals, where more Hong Kong residents are expected to visit.
More than 20 parking lots with over 10,000 spaces have been upgraded so far, with the target of upgrading at least 100 parking lots by the end of the year, the bureau said.
According to the Hong Kong government, following the full resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the mainland earlier this year, daily two-way traffic flow on the HZMB in May saw more than 5,300 vehicles passing through — about 130 percent of pre-pandemic levels. The heaviest daily two-way traffic flow recorded on the bridge in May was 8,500 vehicles, a record since the bridge's opening in October 2018.