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Idling Engines

Idling engine law has all but stalled

SCMP – 19 June 2012

Legislation that is enacted but not enforced is nothing more than meaningless text on the statute books. It is even more absurd when weak legislation continues to be watered down unnoticed after its passage into law. A case in point is the much-criticised law against idling engines, which seeks to combat roadside air pollution. After 14 years of negotiations, the law finally came into force six months ago. But slack enforcement and an array of exemptions still leave a lot to be desired. To ease the impact of the ban, the government issued only verbal warnings in the first month. However, despite 180 spot check operations over the past few months, no penalty ticket has been issued so far. Questions have to be asked whether all drivers have suddenly turned green or whether enforcement has been slack. Indeed, the public could be excused for wondering whether the government is determined to punish drivers who leave the engines of stationary vehicles running.

More disturbingly, as this newspaper has reported, the director of environmental protection last month exercised her discretionary power to exempt 200 vehicles operated by welfare agencies to carry the elderly or operate as mobile clinics. This is in addition to more than a dozen exemptions already passed by the legislature last summer. The approval for this was gazetted without publicity and explained only when asked by our reporter.

Any exemption is effectively a licence to pollute. That is why it should be exercised with great caution. It is disappointing that the official who is supposed to act like a guardian for a clean environment has quietly exercised her power without public scrutiny. The need for more transparency and accountability is evident.

The hot season is putting the law to the test. The tolerant approach over past six months has given drivers more than enough time to get used to the new rules. It is time for enforcers to act tough. Every effort must be made to show the ban on idling engines is not just a cosmetic exercise in the fight against air pollution.

Idling ban fails to deliver for drivers

Winnie Chong

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

“Sir, your engine is running. I’m clocking you.”

With such a courteous reminder from traffic wardens, it is not surprising that no one has been prosecuted under the idling engine ban since it came into effect on December 15.

A drivers’ concern group has characterized as a “toothless tiger” both the ordinance and efforts to enforce it.

Not so, said the Environmental Protection Department, pointing out that there have been 180 warnings even though nobody has been slapped with a fixed penalty ticket of HK$320.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director for air policy, said officers have stepped up enforcement action but it is sometimes hard to tell whether or not an engine is running.

But he insists the prohibition is effective since drivers turn off their engines once they spot the approach of a police officer.

Ng Chi-wai, the owner of Chi Wai TV Engine at Shau Kei Wan, said he has not seen a noticeable change in drivers’ behavior.

“Some even stay in their vehicles so they can enjoy the air-conditioning during meal breaks,” he said.

Regina Ng Wai-yi, who drives a seven-seater vehicle, said the ban would improve air quality but is difficult to enforce.

“You cannot turn off the engine on a hot day while waiting, especially if there are children in the car.”

She said it is also hard to enforce the ban in busy districts like Causeway Bay, Central and Wan Chai, where the air is heavily polluted. She urged the government to extend the idling time from three to 10 minutes.

Van driver Bao Chi-kin said the idling engine law is ridiculous.

“The driver of a goods vehicle has to stay behind the steering wheel while his colleagues are loading or unloading. How can we stand it if there is no air-conditioning?”

Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group chairman Lai Ming-hung, who called the law a ” toothless tiger,” said the three-minute rule leaves plenty of room for disputes between the drivers and the authorities.

But he believes the ban can stop drivers from sleeping in their vehicles.

Under the law, taxis at stands and the first two minibuses at terminals are exempt. All drivers are exempt during very hot weather or rainstorm warnings.

Drivers switch off – when the inspectors are around

SCMP – June 5, 2012

Inspectors targeting drivers idling their vehicle engines have not ticketed any offenders yet, but their presence on the streets has forced many motorists to turn off engines, the Environmental Protection Department said yesterday.

Since the anti-idling law came into force in December, 180 enforcement actions had been undertaken at black spots across the city, said Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director of the department. Those actions included publicising the law, warning drivers and timing idling engines.

Drivers had generally been co-operative with the officers, Mok said.

In 110 cases, the inspectors started timing idling vehicles but the drivers always switched their engines off within the time limit allowed under the law.

Drivers face prosecution if they idle their engines for more than three minutes in any one-hour period. Violators are liable to a fixed-penalty ticket of HK$320.

“We will continue our enforcement and publicity efforts to urge drivers to comply with the idling engine ban,” said Mok, who launched an anti-idling publicity campaign on Tsim Sha Tsui streets yesterday.

Several roving exhibitions promoting the ban will be staged from now until early next month in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui and Tuen Mun.

In the first few months of the ban inspectors were lenient, verbally warning drivers who might not have been familiar with the new law, Mok said. But in recent months they had stepped up enforcement and drivers were no longer warned before the officers started their timing. However, drivers can always see that they are being timed.

Moreover, drivers get an obvious warning when the inspectors check to see if their engine is idling – coming close to listen, or looking at the exhaust pipe.

Mok said inspectors would step up enforcement during the summer months.

He urged drivers to do their bit to improve air quality in the city.

More vehicles escape idling ban

Top official uses her powers to approve an exemption on medical grounds, but lawmaker is unhappy that public was kept in the dark
Cheung Chi-fai
Jun 05, 2012

The director of environmental protection has quietly exercised discretionary powers to introduce a new exemption to the already much diluted ban on idling engines.

The change, approved by Anissa Wong Sean-yee on April 30, came into force on May 11 when it wasgazetted without prior publicity, and adds about 200 vehicles to those able to keep their engines running in the streets.

Drivers of private light buses for an organisation carrying people who are physically or mentally disabled, and drivers of a mobile clinic providing medical consultations on board, can apply for the exemption.

The changes are the first since the ban, aimed at cutting air pollution, took effect in December, much watered-down from the original version after lobbying from the transport trade.

It drew criticism from Democratic Party lawmaker Kam Nai-wai, who said such changes should be posted on the department’s website to allow public comment.

Kam urged the department to explain clearly the criteria it used to approve the exemption and how many vehicles were involved.

“The public has the right to know under what conditions an approval is likely to prevent abuse of power.”

A spokesman for the department said the director had discretion to exempt a driver or class of drivers if she was “satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist that make it impractical or unreasonable for drivers to comply”.

But the spokesman would not say how many exemption applications Wong had received or how many were still being processed. He noted that lawmakers had supported granting exemptions on individual merit.

Drivers already enjoy a three-minute grace period and a general exemption when the weather is poor, such as during rainstorm or very hot weather warnings.

During the legislature’s debate on the idling engine ban, environment officials rejected suggestions that a general exemption should be granted to people with health problems, as it might be abused and make enforcement difficult.

The spokesman said six welfare agencies had been granted the exemption: the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation, the Salvation Army Hoi Yu Day Care Centre for Senior Citizens, the Christian Family Service Centre, United Christian Nethersole Community Health Service, the Salvation Army Tai Po Multi-service Centre for Senior Citizens, and the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals.

“It is necessary to maintain ventilation inside the vehicle cabin with the air conditioner, as the passengers on board may not be able to properly take care of themselves, open the windows or get out of the vehicle when [it] is waiting for other passengers,” the spokesman said.

Yan Oi Tong and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions Workers’ Medical Clinics are also given exemptions for their mobile clinics to ensure equipment is supplied with power and to provide ventilation for waiting patients.

The spokesman said there was no legal definition of mobile clinics and an individual assessment of the merit of exempting them was needed.

A spokeswoman for the Tung Wah Group said exemptions for the 54 private light buses it operates for the elderly and disabled were necessary as “they are vulnerable to high temperature”.

“In more serious situations, they may even run the risk of epilepsy or loss of consciousness,” Ava Ho, the groups’ assistant manager of corporate communication, said.

Yan Oi Tong’s spokeswoman said the organisation had 17 vehicles, including a 24-seat private bus, and a five-tonne truck.

Idling engine Statistics

From: []
Sent: 22 May, 2012 18:52
To: James Middleton
Subject: RE: Statistics
Dear Mr. Middleton,

The EPD has conducted 165 roadside publicity and joint enforcement actions in total, 58 more since the end of March, and the traffic wardens have continued to enforce during normal patrol against drivers who contravenes the idling prohibition.  So far, drivers have been cooperative and no Penalty Notice has been issued.  As the summer is approaching, the EPD has stepped up the ongoing publicity activities to remind drivers to observe the law, including staging outdoor roving exhibitions between May and June.  Meanwhile, environmental protection inspectors and traffic wardens will continue to strengthen roadside publicity and joint enforcement actions.

Environmental Protection Department

“James Middleton” <>

20/05/2012 09:24

To <>
Subject RE: Statistics

What is the current level of fixed penalty notices issued please ?

James Middleton

From: [
31 March, 2012 10:28
James Middleton
Re: Statistics
Dear Mr. Middleton,

Apart from the enforcement conducted by the traffic wardens during their normal patrol duty, we have conducted 107 pre-planned enforcement and publicity operations since the implementation of the Motor Vehicle Idling (Fixed Penalty) Ordinance in December 2011.  In general, the drivers are co-operative and so far no Fixed Penalty Notices have been issued. We will continue our extensive publicity and education programmes throughout Hong Kong to promote the message of switching off idling engines and encourage drivers to take up the green driving habit.

Environmental Protection Department

Officers take zero option

SCMP – Laisee – 3 April 2012

Good to see that the Environmental Protection Department is tackling the task of cracking down on idling engines with the same zeal it applies to improving the quality of the city’s air. The idling engine law came into effect on December 15 last year. James Middleton, the chairman of Clear the Air, recently asked the department how many fixed-penalty tickets it had issued to motorists. In a written reply, the department revealed it had issued a staggering total of zero fines. “In general, the drivers are co-operative,” it said. One can only surmise that one of the requirements for an enforcement officer is seriously impaired vision

Motor Vehicle Idling (Fixed Penalty) Ordinance

Clear the Air say: April Fools’ Day joke-

Utterly useless waste of time Environmental Prevarication Dept

Why does Edward Yau still have a job ?

“The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has reminded drivers that the Motor Vehicle Idling (Fixed Penalty) Ordinance will come into operation on Thursday (December 15).”

So as at 1st April 2012,  in 108 days since the engine idling law took effect the HK EPD and Traffic wardens have issued ZERO fixed penalty engine idling notices.

From: []
Sent: 31 March, 2012 10:28
To: James Middleton
Subject: Re: Statistics
Dear Mr. Middleton,

Apart from the enforcement conducted by the traffic wardens during their normal patrol duty, we have conducted 107 pre-planned enforcement and publicity operations since the implementation of the Motor Vehicle Idling (Fixed Penalty) Ordinance in December 2011.  In general, the drivers are co-operative and so far no Fixed Penalty Notices have been issued. We will continue our extensive publicity and education programmes throughout Hong Kong to promote the message of switching off idling engines and encourage drivers to take up the green driving habit.

Environmental Protection Department

Idle enforcers of engine law


Predictably, enforcement of the idling-engines law is proving to be farcical. It has come to our ears that security trucks belonging to Guardforce and G4S are in the habit of lurking on Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan , from its junction with Shau Kei Wan Main Street East to the traffic lights some 200 metres down the road underneath the flyover. This is an area with a number of schools. The drivers sit around eating, sleeping chatting meanwhile, keeping their engines running. So a complaint was made by Clear the Air chairman James Middleton to the Environmental Protection Department, which is supposed to enforce the new law.

Back came a letter from the EPD to say it had had indeed found trucks with idling engines at this location. “Our observation was that they were providing armoured transportation services,” writes Ray Leung of the EPD, adding that they were therefore exempt under the law. It is hard to see what armoured protection services they were providing parked under a flyover.

Middleton’s response to the EPD: “Your response is not acceptable and is a dereliction of duty. They are most certainly not actively ‘engaged in armoured transportation services…they are having lunch, reading newspaper and sleeping. Therefore the exemption does not apply during these activities.”

Our reporter tells us that as a result of the EPD’s enquiries, security vehicles no longer congregate at this location. They have moved and now gather around the Factory Street playground spewing their emissions. Yet another success story for Edward Yau Tang-wah, secretary for the environment.

Idling ban makes a difference

Clear the Air says:

The SCMP omits the fact that, as well as the first two red minibuses at a stand allowed to idle their engines, if a passenger sits in the third bus , it can also idle its engine and the one behind also ! So if the stand operators have one person sitting in each of the following minibuses , they can all run their engines legally.

i.e. a pointless and flawed piece of legislation in its current state.

Idling ban makes a difference

Research carried out by South China Morning Post shows air quality could improve by 30 per cent, but lax enforcement may offset the benefits

The ban on idling engines could improve air quality by at least 30 per cent, according to a test conducted a day before and a day after by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcementsnews) .

However non-compliance as a result of lax enforcement and polluting vehicles could also offset these potential benefits.

The Post took measurements at idling hot spots between 7pm and 9pm on December 14 and 16, in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, to assess the effectiveness of the ban, introduced on December 15.

Using a hand-held device that automatically registered air quality data every two seconds, the Post measured the carbon monoxide reading at each hot spot for about four to five minutes on both days.

Air quality improvements were recorded in parts of Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok, where red minibuses line the left and middle lanes on a 100-metre stretch between Fife Street and Argyle Street.

On the day before the ban was introduced, about eight out of 15 red minibuses parked on the street had their engines idling.

The new law allows idling for a maximum of six buses for the three bus routes operating from the street.

On the second day, only six out of 16 buses were found idling.

Readings taken during a four-minute walk along the street showed carbon monoxide readings had dropped by 30 per cent from 7,400 micrograms on the first testing day to 5,200 micrograms.

There was also a noticeable improvement near a news stand close to the end of the street, where the average reading fell from 7,300 micrograms to 3,100 micrograms.

The stand owner said he felt the street was becoming “a lot more peaceful” than before.

But air pollution readings fluctuated outside an electronic product shop in the middle of the street, rising from 7,200 micrograms to 7,700 micrograms.

There was also an increase in Fa Yuen Street near Tung Choi Street, possibly due to more buses idling.

However, a semi-covered red minibus station next to Langham Place in Mong Kok remained a hot spot despite the ban, with more than 12 minibuses inside the station running their engines on both days the measurements were taken.

Average readings from a five-minute air sampling at one of the passenger queuing areas hit more than 18,000 micrograms on the first day, and a huge 59,000 on the second day.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) sets the maximum hourly allowable carbon monoxide levels at 30,000 micrograms.

A spokesman said the Post‘s findings, based on these short periods of measurement, should not be benchmarked against the department’s objectives.

Dr Lau Ngai-ting, who is with the University of Science and Technology’s environment division, said longer measurement periods would be needed to ascertain the benefits of the ban. But he wondered if other emission sources, including moving vehicles, might have overshadowed the improvements.

“No doubt there are incremental benefits if engines are switched off, but these can also be offset by other factors like moving traffic nearby,” Lau said.

This idea was supported by the Post’s findings. At one point on the second day, the maximum reading soared to a maximum of 157,000 micrograms as a diesel minibus overtook a LPG-powered bus and closed in on the air sampling device. “The reading was quite consistent until the diesel bus came closer and pushed the reading to this extremely high level,” said Nancy Fong Siu-pui, a research student who helped the Post with the measurement.

Lau said clamping down on idling engines was just one way of reducing pollution. Other measures, such as tighter vehicle emission standards and monitoring of ageing and polluting vehicles, were also required.

People working in the area said they had not yet seen officers enforcing the ban. One elderly worker said the pollution was better in the cooler weather, but worse in summer. “I am used to it,” he said.

The EPD did not respond directly when asked if officers patrolled the bus station and issued warnings to drivers breaching the ban, but it promised to refer the issue to the Transport Department.

Across the harbour in the section of Lockhart Road between Cannon Street and Percival Street, there was little change in the pollution readings. This was because most drivers had already started switching off their engines before the ban, with no need for air conditioning now the weather has cooled down.

Ban on idling engines begins

South China Morning Post – Dec. 15, 2011

A ban on idling engines came into force on Thursday in Hong Kong, although wardens will enforce it initially with warnings instead of fines.

The new law sets a fixed-penalty fine of HK$320 for drivers who fail to switch off idling engines, the Environmental Protection Department said on the first day of the ban.

But the department said it would be lenient to begin with, warning drivers instead of fining them for the first month. Those who ignore warnings, however, will be issued a fixed-penalty ticket.

Environmental Protection Department assistant director Mok Wai-chuen visited a busy street in Causeway Bay on Thursday morning with inspectors to publicise the ban. Some drivers said there was little need to switch on their engines for air conditioning on such a cool day.

The ban, which applies to all vehicles, grants drivers three minutes’ exemption in every hour.

Critics of the new law, first mooted 10 years ago, say it is too little too late, with many vehicles exempted.

Exemptions will be given to electric cars, and all vehicles on days when official weather warnings are issued for high temperatures or rainstorms.

Taxis waiting at stands may leave their engines idling, as may the first two minibuses parked at bus stops.

A red minibus at a bus stop with at least one passenger on board and the minibus immediately behind it are also exempt.

This exemption has raised concerns that minibus drivers may use decoy passengers to evade the rule.

“If they arrange [to have] somebody sitting on board so that they can keep the engine on, I would say this is unnecessary, wastes fuel and increases the pace at which their vehicles will wear out,” Mok said.

An EPD officer hands out a leaflet about new ban on idling engines to a driver at Causeway Bay on Thursday.