Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Idling Engines

Law has become an idling curiosity

South China Morning Post – Dec. 15, 2011

For those who regularly have to put up with exhaust fumes emitted by stationary vehicles, there is finally some good news. After a wait of 14 years, the ban on idling engine comes into force today. But it is much too early to feel we can take a deep breath with confidence. It is unlikely that this law will make much of an impact on roadside pollution.

An array of exemptions and a delay in its enforcement to get around our city’s hottest season have already weakened public confidence in the law. Some critics have rightly questioned whether the ban will make any difference at all. To ensure the law means what it says, strict enforcement is therefore essential.

Up to 280 traffic wardens in uniform and 400 inspectors from the Environmental Protection Department will be looking out for vehicles parked with running engines. Hot spots like Causeway Bay and school areas will be the prime targets. But drivers have been assured that for the first month the fixed penalty of HK$320 will only be issued if verbal warnings are ignored. Understandably, the government wants to ease in the law without creating disputes. As drivers become more familiar with the scope of the ban, zero tolerance is needed to show the government’s determination in enforcement.

The real challenge, however, comes from the difficulties in policing a law that grants far too many exemptions. For instance, drivers have three minutes’ grace every hour. Taxis at ranks, buses and school vans that contain passengers are also exempt. The ban is even put aside during rainstorm and hot weather warnings. Confusion and disputes are therefore inevitable. There are already discussions about how drivers might get around the law.

The ban on idling engines is long overdue. Now that it is finally put into force, it is important to get it right. The law will become meaningless if enforcement is only half-hearted. The government should assess the impact of the ban and review the penalty and the scope of exemptions in light of experience.

New system to make ban on idle engines a breeze

Hong Kong Standard

With the ban on idling engines just a day away, the territory has unveiled its first automatic system to keep cool drivers who have stopped.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

With the ban on idling engines just a day away, the territory has unveiled its first automatic system to keep cool drivers who have stopped.

Developed by the Hong Kong Productivity Council, the system aims to ease the problem of high in-vehicle temperatures during idle stops while improving roadside air quality by cutting emissions.

“With this system, when a vehicle comes to a complete stop, the engine will stop automatically, cutting emissions caused by idling,” council chairman Clement Chen Cheng-jen said.

“Also, once the engine stops, the auxiliary air-conditioning system will kick in immediately and can keep running for up to an hour.”

The system, funded by the government Environment and Conservation Fund and the Woo Wheelock Green Fund, is currently undergoing patent registration and can cut fuel consumption, Chen said.

“We plan to commercialize the technology through licensing to auto parts manufacturers for sales and production, creating business opportunities for the industry.”

The council is also upgrading the system to extend air-conditioning supply to up to two hours, a feat that will be tested early next year.

Under the ban taking effect on Thursday, drivers cannot leave their engines idling for more than three minutes in any 60-minute period, subject to a fixed penalty of HK$320.

Taxis at stands are exempt, as are the first two minibuses at stands. All drivers are exempt during very hot weather or rainstorm warnings. STAFF REPORTER

Who’s paying the piper?

South China Morning Post

Speaking on RTHK’s Backchat programme yesterday, Jim Middleton, chairman of anti-pollution group Clear The Air, mentioned that it would be interesting to know the funding for the various interests in Legco that succeeded in delaying then watering down the idling engine legislation.

He makes a good point. Do the bus companies fund political parties? Is this why legislative action to reduce vehicle emissions is so painfully slow?

Most developed economies have laws forcing political parties to divulge the source of their funding. It would be interesting, for example, to know where the DAB gets HK$70 million that enables it to provide free rice to older voters in housing estates, bus them to the polling booths and so on. But since those pulling the party strings are unlikely to want this, it’s unlikely to happen.

CTA was onair today

Vehicle engine-idling law /

On today’s Backchat, we look at the implementation of vehicle engine-idling laws that come into effect on Thursday

Idling ban up, running but going nowhere fast

South China Morning Post – Dec. 10, 2011

For first month of new law, wardens and environment officers will take softly-softly approach and issue warnings rather than hand out tickets

Law enforcement officers will adopt a lenient approach in the first month of the ban on idling engines, with verbal warnings given first before offenders are handed any HK$320 fixed-penalty tickets, environment officials said yesterday.

Up to 280 traffic wardens in uniform and 400 inspectors from the Environmental Protection Department will have the additional duty of enforcing the ban when it comes into force next Thursday.

Idling hot spots, including Causeway Bay and school areas, may be specifically targeted, while private car parks are a lower priority because enforcement will require prior consent from the property owners.

The public can file complaints to the department on suspected breaches.

The government drew up a draft ban in 2007, some six years after it was first proposed. But after negotiations with the transport industry, the resulting legislation passed in March represented a much toned-down version, with a series of exemptions.

The original ban covered all vehicles and roads all-year. It offered no grace period, no exemptions in extreme weather and excluded only the first two taxis waiting at a rank.

Now, all taxis at a taxi stand are exempt, as are the first two minibuses at stands. Drivers will also be allowed to idle their engines on days when the Observatory issues hot weather and rainstorm warnings.

Breaching the ban will attract a fixed penalty of HK$320. However, in the first month of the ban, an offender will initially be verbally warned. A ticket will be issued only if the offender ignores the warning.

From the second month, officers will be less tolerant. Drivers who dispute the enforcement can seek a court review.

Officials hope the ban will make drivers change their behaviour as they realise the benefits to be made from saving fuel.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director of environmental protection, said officers would first identify if a vehicle is idling by listening to the sounds, checking the engine vibration and looking at the parking meters. They will also make sure the vehicles is not subject to exemptions before they start counting the three minutes.

“Officers will not hide themselves from the drivers and vehicles and count the time as they have to complete the pre-counting checks,” he said, adding the officers will carefully record the location and time, as well as the information of the vehicles and drivers.

It is expected that most drivers will turn off their engines when they see the officers.

Drivers are also reminded that they are only given an aggregate of three minutes exemption in any one-hour period, even if they drive their vehicles to a different location within this period. Beyond the three minutes, drivers will be prosecuted.

If a driver continues to idle their vehicle, officers have the power to issue more penalty tickets.

Mok said a driver could not evade the engine-idling ban by switching cars or seats with someone as officers should have little problem recognising the driver and vehicle in question.

“If we find a car idling without a driver, we will wait until the driver comes back. If he or she doesn’t, police assistance will be sought,” he said.

Hung Cheung-yau, chairman of Hong Kong Traffic Wardens’ Union, said it was hard to tell if the ban would lead to more disputes with drivers.

“It is like issuing illegal parking tickets. Some disputes are inevitable. But we are used to it,” he said.

Hung said traffic wardens only assumed a complementary role in enforcing the ban. “We will deliver our primary duties like traffic control before we have time for the ban.”


Scope of the idling engine ban

It covers all vehicles, except electric or hybrid vehicles in electric mode; all year round on all roads, including private roads and car parks

Drivers will be exempted under the following conditions

1. Any idling for no more than three minutes in a continuous 60-minute period

2. All day when the very hot weather warning, or amber, red or black rainstorm warnings are issued

3. Idling due to traffic congestion, like queuing at a petrol station or car park, or an accident

4. Idling due to mechanical problems

5. Boarding or alighting of a passenger

Other exemptions

1. Taxis at taxi stand

2. First two red or green minibuses at bus stand

3. Any red minibus with any passenger on board, and the minibus immediately behind it

4. Private school light bus or coach with any passenger on board

5. Franchise bus with any passenger on board or ready for boarding

6. Vehicles of 12 medical, emergency or law enforcement bodies

7. Vehicles carrying live animals for public health protection or other operational activities

8. Security vehicles operated by licensed parties

9. PLA Garrison vehicles on operations or training

10. Any vehicle requiring idling to perform a purpose it is designed for (eg operating the tail board of a truck, or refuse collection vehicles)

Who will enforce the ban

Traffic wardens and inspectors from the Environmental Protection Department


Fixed fine of HK$320 (more than one ticket can be issued if driver refuses to switch off engine for subsequent three-minute periods)

Idling-engine ban to start next week

South China Morning Post – Dec. 09, 2011

Up to 280 traffic wardens and 400 inspectors from the Environmental Protection Department will enforce an idling-engine ban to be introduced by the government next week.

For the first month after the ban takes effect next Thursday enforcement officers will issue a warning instead of a penalty ticket, Environmental Protection Department assistant director Mok Wai-chuen said on Wednesday. If the warning is ignored, drivers will be prosecuted.

The amount of the fine will be HK$320.

The ban will cover all vehicles and roads except where the exemptions apply.

These include a three-minute concession for all drivers once every hour and when a very hot weather or rainstorm warning is in force.

Taxis on a stand and the first two minibuses on a stand will be exempt as will electric and hybrid vehicles.

“Law enforcement officers will first identify if a vehicle is in idling mode by hearing the engine sound, vibration or the checking the meters in the vehicles,” Mok explained. “If affirmative, the officer will start counting the three minutes.”

Mok said changing drivers or switching cars could not evade the idling engine ban, which is aimed at cutting air pollution.

He said officers should have little problem recognising the drivers and vehicles in question.

“If we find a car idling without a driver, we will wait until the driver comes back. If he or she doesn’t, police assistance will be sought,” he said.

Hong Kong Traffic Wardens’ Union Chairman Hung Cheung-yau said it was hard to predict whether there would be more disputes with drivers.

“It is like issuing parking tickets. Some disputes are inevitable. But we are used to it,” he said.

Hung said the traffic wardens’ role in enforcing the ban would be complementary.

“We will deliver our primary duties like traffic control before we have time for the ban,” he said.

Motor Vehicle Idling (Fixed Penalty) Ordinance

Ord. No. 3 of 2011

DOWNLOAD PDF : es12011151031

The uphill battle to curb idling engines

South China Morning Post — 23 Sept. 2011

We have been waiting far too long for a law on idling engines. What should have been a relatively simple step in the battle against air pollution has been debated for 14 years. Now, legislation is finally on the way. But the law to take effect in December will have far too many exemptions and it will be difficult to enforce. There is good reason to doubt whether it will really make a difference.

The need for an effective law was highlighted by this newspaper’s recent testing of pollution levels at idling engine hot spots such as taxi stands and minibus stops. The carbon monoxide measurements recorded with a hand-held device on a single day last month are, of course, neither comprehensive nor conclusive. But they do provide an indication of the higher levels of air pollution we have to endure in places where there are many engines idling.

A carbon monoxide reading of 23,000 micrograms per cubic metre of air, was recorded on a stretch of Mong Kok’s Tung Choi Street lined by dozens of idling minibuses. That was 10 times the level of a nearby road with flowing traffic and no idling vehicles, and 30 times more than the reading at the district’s air quality monitoring station. At a minibus terminus in Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, the temperature was 38 degrees Celsius, five higher than at the Observatory. More research is needed, but it is clear that idling engines have a significant impact and the new law must be effective if it is to have any meaning at all.

Legislators’ approval of the law in March followed much wrangling with transport interest groups. The proposals have been watered down so much that we appear to have lost sight of the objective – to curb the idling of engines by motorists. Among the 20 exemptions are taxis at ranks, buses and school vans that contain passengers, and all vehicles when the weather is particularly hot or wet. Drivers will have three minutes grace every hour. Enforcing this law is not going to be easy. It will be interesting to see if this law can really be enforced. The HK$320 penalty, less than for littering, is not much of a deterrent anyway.

The 260 wardens who police traffic will have watching out for idling engine offenders added to their duties. They will be joined by just 18 specially-trained officers. A weak law and inadequate enforcement add up to minimal change in roadside air pollution readings.

Officials, some of whom walked to work to mark No Car Day yesterday, have touted the law as a significant step in our city’s fight against air pollution, but its value is more symbolic. That need not be the case, though, if enforcement of the law is coupled with close monitoring, a thorough assessment of its impact and a determination to get it right.

Idling engines ramp up pollution

South China Morning Post – 19 Sept. 2011

Tests show much higher carbon monoxide levels and hotter temperatures when streets are full of stationary vehicles rather than moving traffic

Streets full of stationary vehicles with their engines running could be 10 times more polluted than busy roads full of slow-moving traffic, new research has revealed.

Such streets could also be warmer than surrounding urban areas by as much as five degrees Celsius, according to a study by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583,announcementsnews) . Environmentalists said the research could provide useful clues as to the effectiveness of a ban on idling engines, which takes effect in December.

Using a handheld device capable of measuring the carbon monoxide level every two seconds, readings were taken in seven streets in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok on the afternoon of August 13, while a very-hot-weather warning was in effect.

A section of Tung Choi Street in Mong Kok between Argyle Street and Fife Street – where dozens of minibuses were idling – had the highest carbon monoxide reading, at 23,223 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

While that was below the maximum level of carbon monoxide set in the government’s air quality objectives, which is 30,000mcg, it was up to 12 times higher than the reading on a stretch of nearby Fife Street, where traffic was sporadic and there were no idling vehicles. It was also 30 times the level recorded by the Environmental Protection Department’s Mong Kok air quality monitoring station, near Nathan Road in Prince Edward, at the time.

At a bus stop on Nathan Road, near Fife Street, the Post recorded a carbon monoxide concentration of 2,450mcg.

Readings were also taken at Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, between Cannon Street and Percival Street. One side of the road is a minibus terminus and the other is often occupied by private vehicles. The carbon monoxide level there was 8,285mcg, while a maximum temperature of 38 degrees was recorded, 5 degrees higher than at the Observatory.

Dr Lau Ngai-ting, of the environment division at the University of Science and Technology, said the results indicated serious pollution, although other environmental factors could have affected the findings.

James Middleton, from campaign group Clear the Air, said Tung Choi Street was a perfect example of the city’s urban canyon effect, whereby walls of tall buildings prevent pollutants from being dispersed.

But he said poor maintenance of minibuses was also to blame.

“Carbon monoxide can be produced if an appliance hasn’t been properly maintained or serviced regularly. How often do you think Hong Kong minibus owners service their vehicles? The correct answer is zero.”

Middleton said busy areas should be turned into low-emission zones in which only hybrid or electric buses would be allowed.

The Environmental Protection Department said the long-awaited ban on idling engines, first suggested in the 1990s, could cut roadside emissions by 1 per cent and help reduce nuisance to passers-by.

Environmentalists say the effectiveness of the ban will still be difficult to assess because the benefits could be offset by emissions from moving traffic nearby.

Lau said much more sophisticated studies would be needed to ascertain exactly how much of a contribution idling engines made to pollution and to evaluate the effectiveness of the ban on idling engines.

“The pollution may not necessarily come from the idling engine alone, as the moving traffic, the wind speed and direction and the urban topography will all have a role to play,” he said.

Lau said it was difficult to pinpoint why such a high reading was recorded in Tung Choi Street. It might be down to the ageing, slow-moving minibuses spewing more fumes, and also the poor air ventilation at the street, he said.

From December, drivers who leave their engines idling will face a fixed penalty of HK$320.

Air quality has long been a cause of concern for Hong Kong. In May, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen promised to set out new air quality objectives this year to replace the current rules, set in 1987.

Idling law choking on its own inaction

South China Morning – 26 July 2011

First, it takes 14 years of tussle to enact a law regulating vehicles parked with engines running. But instead of being an effective tool in combating roadside air pollution, it has been heavily watered down with a package of exemptions to appease the transport industry. The latest bad news is that enforcement will be delayed until December, with an initial one-month grace period. One cannot help wonder how determined the government is to protect public health.

The reason for the delay appears to be nothing more than a lame excuse. Despite a clear undertaking to enforce the ban in early September, officials told a Legco panel that the understanding had always been that the law would not commence during the hottest days of the year. That lawmakers feel betrayed is understandable. Officials were either misreading the temperature records in autumn, or they were never sincere in setting the promised deadline when lobbying for support from lawmakers to pass the bill in March. Sadly, the comfort of those sitting inside an air-conditioned vehicles is clearly more important than the risks for those choking on exhaust fumes outside.

Regulations specifying arrangements for the HK$320 infringement penalty will not be ready for gazetting until next month. By the time the ban comes into force in December, as freshly promised, it will be 10 months since the ordinance was passed. Of more concern is the lack of enforcement manpower. The 260 wardens currently policing other traffic-related offences will also be required to enforce the ban. The plan to train up just another 18 officers to cope with the new law does not do justice to a law which potentially affects hundreds of thousands of vehicles. This raises doubts about how effective the law will be.

Vehicles remain the second largest source of air pollution after power plants. But the 20 exemptions granted to drivers under different conditions have already defeated much of the purpose of the new law. Instead of dragging its feet, officials should enforce the law expeditiously for the sake of public health and the environment