GBA driving licenses a reality, sort of

A small quota of drivers with cross-border licenses has been approved for the first phase of a pilot program that is being called a “GBA license”. It allows drivers to move freely between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, via certain checkpoints.

If all goes well, the program will be expanded after six months. 

It is not easy to understand the new licensing regulation just by reading the announcement on various government websites. Even the Hong Kong Transport Department announced it in such a way that the SCMP misunderstood it initially, thinking this was a move to open Zhuhai to Hong Kong drivers. It is not. It is nothing more, or less, than a way for Macau and Hong Kong drivers to go through each others’ territories in accessing Guangdong. 

Imagine you are driving a Hong Kong-registered car with a dual plate, i.e., you have both Hong Kong and Guangdong plates. Now, when you travel via the HZMB to Zhuhai, you can come back via a detour to Macau, by crossing either the Hengqin-Lotus checkpoint, or the little-known Zhuhai-Macau checkpoint at the foot of the HZMB (on the Macau-Zhuhai side).

Similarly, if you are driving a Macau-registered car to Hong Kong, with dual plates, you can cross over into Shenzhen via the Shenzhen Bay bridge.  

The new pilot program will not include the GBA’s two busiest border crossings for cars: Gongbei (Macau-Zhuhai) or Lok Ma Chau (Hong Kong-Shenzhen).

We empathize with the SCMP over their mistake, because we have recently been burnt by jumping to conclusions on an HZMB-related announcement, too. We wrote that new electronic licenses were being issued by the Guangdong authorities for cross-border licenses that would blow open the gates, so to speak, and likely result in a surge of numbers on the bridge. What we missed was that these licenses are only for “special” license-holders, people who have been invited to Guangdong for certain culture and tourism-related events. Not for the general public. 

Mea culpa.

Still, each of these announcements is laying the building blocks for a full opening of not only the HZMB, but all of the border-crossing points between Macau, Hong Kong and Guangdong. It is only a matter of time before one license plate will be accepted in all three jurisdictions, and all the necessary paperwork will have been done online.

How long? We have no idea. Stay tuned.

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