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Road Pricing

Sadiq Khan to more than double size of London’s clean air zone

New mayor of London calls air pollution ‘our biggest environmental challenge’ and plans to bring the increased ultra low emission zone into force early

The new mayor of London Sadiq Khan has made his first major policy announcement, unveiling plans to substantially increase the size of London’s clean air charging zone to tackle the capital’s illegal air pollution levels.

The Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) – which could also now come into force earlier than planned – will require drivers of the 2.5m oldest and dirtiest vehicles to pay a charge. Owners of cars that fail to meet the standards will pay a £12.50 charge, separate to the congestion charge.

The scheme is intended to act as an incentive to drivers to use cleaner vehicles or alternative transport to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas produced by diesel vehicles.

Under Khan’s plans, which will now be subject to a public consultation, the ULEZ will stretch from the north to south circular roads in London rather than just the much smaller congestion charge zone in central London as currently planned. Officials said the area covered will more than double in size.

Khan said his predecessor, Boris Johnson, had been too slow to act and had left the city a “laughing stock” internationally, and the government had been “hopelessly inactive” on the issue. Officials said the ULEZ, under a consultation to be published within weeks, could now come into force as soon as 2019 rather than the original plan of 2020.

“I have been elected with a clear mandate to clean up London’s air – our biggest environmental challenge,” Khan said at a school in east London. He said London had only acted on pollution in the past after emergencies, such as the Great Smogs of the1950s: “But I want to act before an emergency, which is why we need big, bold and sometimes difficult policies if London is to match the scale of the challenge.”

The mayor’s office also said an extra charge on the most polluting vehicles would be brought in from 2017, which would be administered by the congestion charge system but be separate to the congestion charge. It is not yet clear what that charge will be.

Khan chatted with pupils and sowed seeds with them at a rooftop garden of a primary school in Aldgate, which is situated on a busy road packed with cars and buses. Sir John Cass’s Foundation is equipped with its own pollution sensors as well as one from the wider London Air Quality Network, decorated with a design created by schoolchildren.

“For me it can’t be right that this school on three occasions last year has to make the call whether to allow children to play in the playground breathing in this dangerous stuff or play indoors,” Khan told the Guardian.

He said the issue was very personal to him because of his asthma, but also as a father of two daughters, and as someone with nephews and nieces. “At the age of 45 I’ve been diagnosed with asthma. All the experts say that one out of three people who have asthma could be because of air quality.”

Khan said that under eight years of Boris Johnson the city’s reputation had gone from: “being one of the world-leading cities [in terms of air pollution], according to people around the world, to being at best mediocre.” He added the city had gone from having an earlier reputation for leadership on climate change and air quality but was now “a laughing stock around the world.”

A study by King’s College London last year found that nearly 9,500 people in the capital die early because of air pollution. Earlier this year it took parts of London just one week to breach annual limits, and a major global study by the World Health Organisation on Thursday found the city breached its guideline limits for two harmful types of particulate pollution.

Alan Andrews of ClientEarth, which has sued the government over the illegal pollution levels in London and other cites, said the mayor’s plan was a “hugely positive announcement”.

“We will have to wait and see if the detail of the mayor’s proposals matches his ambition. With air pollution causing over 9,000 deaths a year in London it is vital that all options to solve this problem are on the table. It will be crucial that the ULEZ ensures vehicles meet the most stringent emission standards when driving on London’s roads, not just in discredited laboratory tests,” he said.

“Today’s announcement, coming so early in the new mayor’s term, should send a clear message to the UK government that ambitious and bold action is needed. The government must now up its game so that the whole country can breathe cleaner air.”

Caroline Russell, Green party London Assembly member, said: “While I warmly welcome the mayor’s intention to expand the ULEZ to the north and south circular, it’s essential that all outer London boroughs should also have the ability to opt in right from the beginning.”

But Friends of the Earth said that while it welcomed such a swift plan and expanded ULEZ, Khan was sending mixed messages by clearing an obstacle to City Airport’s expansion earlier this week. “It is confusing that this announcement comes in the same week that Sadiq Khan has removed a key hurdle in the expansion of City Airport which will only add to London’s dirty air woes,” said its campaigner, Sophie Neuburg.

Area with lowest pollution readings deteriorating rapidly

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP

If you are looking for the place in Hong Kong where you can breathe most easily, Tai Po has the cleanest air – on the face of it.

It had the fewest hours of unhealthy air in the first half of the year – 1,188 hours, equivalent to 50 days.

But take a closer look and you will see a different picture.

A South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) analysis of Environmental Protection Department data from the 11 general air-quality monitoring stations citywide shows Tai Po was one of only three to record an increase in unhealthy air between the first half of 2005 and the first half of this year.

The increase in “high” and “very high” pollution readings in Tai Po between 2000 and 2008 was also the third-biggest across the city.

Sha Tin – like Tai Po, a New Territories new town – and Eastern district are the next cleanest, both recording fewer than 1,300 hours of unhealthy air in the first six months of the year.

Sham Shui Po and Kwun Tong were the most polluted built-up areas, with more than 1,500 hours of high or very high pollution in the first half of the year. These areas all experience heavy traffic on their roads.

Under the city’s 22-year-old air quality guidelines – which critics say are outdated – an air pollution index reading of 51 to 100 is classified as high and a reading above 100 as very high.

The government says persistent exposure to high levels of air pollution may have long-term effects and that when pollution is very high, people with heart or respiratory illnesses should reduce outdoor activity.

The general monitoring stations measure concentrations of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and respirable suspended particles.

The number of hours of high and very high air-pollution readings in Tai Po in a full year rose by 48 per cent, from 2,309 in 2000 to 3,422 in 2008. Only remote Tap Mun Island, with a 110 per cent increase, and the Sha Tin and Eastern districts, where the hours of unhealthy air rose 50 per cent, did worse.

The figures came as a big surprise to Yau Wing-kwong, a green activist and Tai Po district councillor.

“I have all along believed Tai Po is the greenest part of the city. I had no idea the air quality had worsened at such a pace,” he said.

“It is clearly very alarming and the district council should follow this up immediately. We should get involved with experts from universities to look into the problem.”

Mr Yau suspects a wave of property development, and reclamation of Tolo Harbour – the sea inlet on which Tai Po new towns sits – have played a role in changing the district’s microclimate.

Chan Chak-keung, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Science and Technology, said ozone pollution – caused by the reactions between volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides under strong sunlight – could be a big factor in Tai Po’s air pollution.

While the district had one of the lowest annual average concentrations of three of the four major pollutants last year, it had the second-highest average ozone pollution.

Only Tap Mun in Mirs Bay, into which Tolo Harbour runs, had worse ozone pollution. Government officials see the high levels there as a indicative of regional pollution levels, given the island’s proximity to the border.

Professor Chan said ozone pollution involved a complex process and its impacts in urban areas and the countryside were different. Ozone pollution tended to be less acute in urban areas since the gases could be “consumed” by nitrogen oxides emitted by motor vehicles, he said. But this offsetting process might be weaker in Tai Po.

“The district is relatively open and large, making dispersion of pollutants easier, while emissions from transport sources in the district are lower than in the urban areas.”

Frank Lee Shun-cheng of Polytechnic University said prevailing winds were a key factor in variation in air quality between districts.

Pollution Study Points To Dangers Of ‘Canyon Effect’

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Updated on Feb 02, 2009

The “canyon effect” is to blame for the much higher level of ultrafine air pollutants at bus stops on “walled streets” in Central compared with those in more ventilated areas, a study has shown.

In one comparison, the number of pollutants nearly doubled. The canyon effect refers to the impact – such as poor ventilation and trapped heat – from the creation of canyon-like streets between walls of closely spaced tall buildings.

The study measured the number of ultrafine particles in every cubic centimetre of air, rather than the government’s pollution-monitoring method that tracks the weight of larger particles in every cubic metre of

Ultrafine particles can be as tiny as 20 nanometres in diameter – 2,500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

Although there are no international standards on acceptable levels of the number of ultrafine particles in the air, overseas studies have found they can penetrate directly into blood vessels and lung tissue, causing
harm. Many scientists believe they may be the most harmful form of air pollution.

The Hong Kong study was conducted last year by students at the University of Science and Technology. They found the air at bus stops at sites between walls of buildings on streets with heavy traffic had more ultrafine pollutants than that at bus stops in open spaces, seaward streets and indoors.

The number of particles at the two eastbound bus stops outside Wing Lung Bank and the old Hang Seng building at Des Voeux Road Central were on average 90 per cent and 75 per cent higher than at the bus stop outside Statue Square in Central.

Measurements were taken during evening peak hours on six days between September and December.

Between 48,000 and 137,000 particles were recorded at the Wing Lung Bank bus stop, between 63,000 and 100,000 at the old Hang Seng Bank building bus stop, and a range of 22,000 to 82,000 at the Statue Square bus stop. For comparison, a benchmark reading of 20,000 was recorded at the researchers’ Sai Kung campus on a clear and fine summer day.

Des Voeux Road Central is surrounded by buildings on both sides while the Statue Square stop has more open space in its vicinity, although more buses pass by the square.

“The findings strongly suggest the presence of the canyon effect in Central,” said Lau Ngai-ting, the project’s supervisor. “The number of particles one inhales in the streets would be astronomical.”

He said that while the readings might have varied with changing weather conditions and ambient pollution levels, he believed poor ventilation contributed to higher pollution levels on the streets. Heavy traffic, such
as buses running on large diesel engines, was the key source of ultrafine particles, he said.

Researchers also measured particle levels along three different walking routes between Des Voeux Road Central and Statue Square.

On all three routes, the reading showed high levels of pollutants – hitting a high of 180,000 at one point on the road – but fell below 10,000 in elevated walkways, mall corridors and underground rail stations, where
ventilation was better.

Adrien Chen Kam-cheuk, a chemical and environmental engineering student who initiated the study, said: “Going above ground or underground seems to be a more desirable way for commuters to avoid street-level pollution.”

Mr Lau said regulating traffic through such means as electronic road pricing or low-emission zones might help reduce the pollution level.

Well Positioned To Help Fuel Future Growth

Thomas Tang – SCMP | Updated on Nov 05, 2008

The financial crisis has focused the minds of everyone on the economy. Cuts in interest rates to maintain liquidity are the measures currently being discussed in macroeconomic circles. However, despite the ominous likelihood of a recession, does this mean that Hong Kong will just seize up?

An alternative is to adopt a bolder approach, to restructure markets to make them sounder and more rational – and use these mechanisms to address a much longer-term but equally pressing global problem, climate change.

Lord Stern, the former adviser to the British government on climate change, spoke to some of the major business leaders in Hong Kong recently to outline the steps mankind must take to avoid the catastrophic effects of increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

Since 2000, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have climbed by 2 parts per million annually, due to soaring use of fossil fuels to power the world’s economic growth.

The present level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is around 438 parts per million; if this amount is allowed to increase at the current rate, then by 2050 we are looking at over 500 parts per million and a corresponding increase in average temperatures.

To staunch this calamitous trend, Lord Stern spoke of the need to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 (based on 1990 levels) to bring global carbon emissions under control. But, as he stressed, it is not a case of forgoing economic growth; it is about growth in a low-carbon economy. Under the Apec Leaders’ Declaration on Climate Change, Energy Security and Clean Development, made in September last year, Hong Kong has committed itself to reducing energy use by 25 per cent by 2030 (using 2005 as a base year).

Hong Kong now emits between nine and 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person each year, which is roughly in line with most developed nations. The US emits between 20 and 25 tonnes per capita, while the figure for China is about 5 tonnes.

In his policy address this year, the chief executive put the emphasis on an economy based on low energy consumption and low pollution through energy efficiency, clean fuels and energy conservation.

Mandatory building codes on energy, energy audits and energy labelling are commendable, and a step in the right direction. The government should also consider road pricing and carbon taxes. Meanwhile, there is a growing array of low-carbon technologies that are well suited to Hong Kong’s needs.

The question is one of money. This brings us back to the sourcing and application of funds – surely it would have been far better for investors to spend money on low-carbon technology, rather than on the risky financial products that led to the minibond debacle.

This is where business can lead, by redirecting funds to more appropriate causes, and for government to pursue sensible, viable projects that have both commercial and environmental benefits.

Hong Kong could make a significant contribution abroad. For example, almost a quarter of carbon emissions arise through the loss of natural forests, either through felling or burning. The world’s forests act as global “sinks” for carbon; any disruption in these ecosystems has a profound effect on emission levels. Hong Kong could help protect vital forests by purchasing carbon credits from clean energy projects in developing economies.

Shored up by the mainland, which is committed to reducing emissions as well as maintaining economic growth, Hong Kong is well positioned to become the green finance centre of the region.

As the world battens down for the coming recession, Hong Kong can use its financial clout to shift focus to another global problem – but one that deals with real-life issues. That is what leadership is about.

Dr Thomas Tang is executive director of the Global Institute for Tomorrow

Axe Bypass, Says Ex-London Mayor: ‘However Many Roads You build – They Will Fill Up, Usually Within 18 Months’

Albert Wong – SCMP | Updated on Nov 04, 2008

Construction of the Central-Wan Chai bypass would be a “complete waste of time” and only serve to increase the number of drivers in the area, according to the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

“Literally, it will fill up in two years; it might fill up in two months,” Mr Livingstone, noted for his controversial introduction of a congestion charge to cut traffic levels in central London, said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

Mr Livingstone, who visited Hong Kong last week at the government’s invitation to exchange views on urban environmental policies, said he had expressed his views on the matter to officials.

“In any city as densely populated as London, New York or Hong Kong, there’s a potential to double the road system and it will fill up,” he said.

“Transport planners have known since 1938 that however many roads you build – they will fill up, usually within 18 months or two years … If you take the [vehicle] capacity out, the number of people driving goes down; if you put it up, the number of people driving goes up.

“When you look at a city like Hong Kong, especially when you’ve 100 per cent of the roads you need, it’s about using them more sensibly.”

As the first mayor of London, a post created in 2000, Mr Livingstone credits his congestion charge for his re-election in 2004 – although he admits some people will never forgive him for it.

Since it was introduced in 2003, every annual report by Transport for London (TFL) on the successful reduction in congestion has been contested by alternative reports by various automobile associations that claim the figures are “spin”.

Businesses in central London also complained of the increased delivery costs and blamed reduced sales on less traffic in the area.

The controversy was fuelled when TFL reported in August that while the volume of cars entering central London was down 21 per cent since the charge started in 2003, congestion – measured by journey times – was back to 2002 levels. TFL maintained this was due to roadworks.

In Hong Kong, the government is planning to relieve traffic congestion by building the Central-Wan Chai bypass, scheduled for 2016, which will connect the Rumsey Street flyover in Central with the Island Eastern Corridor in North Point.

“Electronic road pricing”, similar to a congestion charge, is also being studied, although the government has said it could only complement the bypass, not replace it, and would depend on “community support”.

Mr Livingstone recognised that his scheme had its detractors, but said he felt they were outnumbered by its supporters. “Some people hated me and will never forgive me. But once the zone came in, my opinion polls jumped 10 per cent. And it guaranteed my election in 2004.”

A number of cities in Europe have now implemented congestion charging and New York has also been flirting with the idea.

Mr Livingstone urged the Hong Kong government to show some political will. “The one thing that strikes me here about the nature of this embryonic democracy is that everybody is so desperate to get a consensus and that everyone must be consulted,” he said. “There are always people resistant to change … The world doesn’t have the time to wait for everyone to agree.”

However, Mr Livingstone said neither the pollution nor congestion in Hong Kong was as bad as in many developed cities. He also said Hong Kong and Shanghai had the best potential to join London and New York in the “first tier” of great cities. “In both Hong Kong and Shanghai, you feel people are much more relaxed about difference and diversity,” he said.

Mr Livingstone recently lost the mayoral election to Tory Boris Johnson but plans to run for election against in 2012, in time for the Olympics Games. The former mayor advises various governments on sustainable development issues in cities and has been appointed an adviser in urban planning to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Time Running Out For Smog Review

Time running out for smog review
Government fails to make progress in its examination of air pollution standards

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Oct 08, 2008

A year after the government began reviewing Hong Kong’s outdated air-pollution standards, officials have made no firm commitments to new air-quality objectives – and the exercise is due to end in less than three months.

The lack of progress has prompted suspicions among people involved in the review that the government plans to take a politically expedient shortcut instead of proposing tough, far-reaching objectives that will genuinely protect public health.

The review was launched in response to calls to replace the city’s 20-year-old air-quality objectives with the latest World Health Organisation guidelines, which are up to three times as tough as Hong Kong’s current standards. No country has yet adopted the WHO’s standards.

Sources close to the review say there are signs officials on the advisory panel want to roll out more politically acceptable options.

“You can’t only look at things you believe are workable since the issue in question now is public health, which offers little room for compromise,” said one of the sources, who asked to remain anonymous.

“Unless you have set the targets based on scientific evidence of health protection, there is no way to tell if the control measures at different stages are enough and timely.”

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department would not directly answer that contention but said: “Consultants are still examining and evaluating the practicability and effectiveness of additional control measures available for ensuring the earliest possible improvement of our air quality.”

The department said it planned to hold a public forum to gather views on the review’s findings, with a public consultation next year.

Hong Kong’s 24-hour average standard for respirable suspended particles – one of the main health-threatening pollutants – is 180 micrograms per cubic metre, compared with the WHO’s guideline of 50.

The sources said the panel – comprising industry stakeholders, experts and officials – had spent too little time in the past year discussing targets and too much time gauging views on proposed control strategies.

Recommendations included increasing the use of natural gas in electricity generation to at least 50 per cent, more use of nuclear energy, electronic road pricing, phasing out polluting trucks and introducing low-emission zones – projected to reduce pollutants by tens of thousands of tonnes in the long term.

The sources said a commonly adopted review approach was to lay down targets adequate enough to protect health before considering measures – no matter what they were or how tough they were to achieve – to reach those targets in phases.

Citing the example of electronic road pricing, one of the sources said he saw no reason why 2015 had been earmarked for its implementation, given the direct health risks posed by polluting vehicles.

“When it comes to buying out chicken vendor licences for avian flu prevention, the government did it in two months,” the source said. “So I can’t see why it takes seven years for it to do road pricing.”

Earlier studies on the health effects of air pollution estimated it caused about 550 deaths a year and the use of 19,700 hospital bed days. Hongkongers’ life expectancy was estimated to be shortened by 16 months, on average, due to bad air.

The source said the current exercise should focus on laying down a clear institutional and legal framework in which to review air-quality standards based on scientific evidence. The principle of health protection should also be stated in the Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, Friends of the Earth’s environmental affairs manager, said the public’s health would be at risk if the government turned a blind eye to scientific fact.

“How can the government pacify the souls of those who have died of air pollution if it seeks to politicise health issues arising from air pollution, hoping to delay what it can do by evading fundamental issues?” he asked.

Street Fighting

HK MAGAZINE – October 3rd, 2008

Look both ways before crossing this one
From pollution to urban renewal and quality of life, a lot of Hong Kong’s problems can be traced back to unnecessary road construction, writes John Robertson.

Which is more important in Hong Kong—cars or you? If you read the pedestrian chapter of the Transport Department’s official “Road User’s Code,” you are bombarded with images of people fleeing for their lives or cowering in fear of the next luxury sedan barreling around the corner. “Look out for traffic turning into the road in which you are crossing,” warns one passage, “the driver may not see you or give way to you.” Another warns, “Before crossing a driveway, look all around for approaching traffic and listen. If there is no approaching traffic likely to use the entrance or driveway then carry on. Do not loiter in a driveway but walk straight across it.”

The pro-vehicle bias in this guidebook is emblematic of a larger, and much more disturbing one that guides all of our town planning, and has caused its fair share of controversy over the years. Remember the destruction of the Central Star Ferry Pier? That was part of the Central reclamation area, a project designed to introduce a bypass from Central to Wan Chai. Meanwhile, the proposed extension of Route 4 through Pok Fu Lam and Kennedy Town, which architect, planner and designer Peter Cookson Smith calls unnecessary and says “will spoil the shoreline for pedestrians,” has also caused an outpouring of opposition. Other contentious future plans include the demolition of Temple Street to build a highway connecting West and East Kowloon (refer to map, right, for list). Cars take precedent over pedestrianized areas, sidewalks, and road crossings. Many walkways in the city are flanked by metal barriers and railings, making crossing difficult. All of this despite the fact that cars remain a luxury item in Hong Kong, affordable only for the upper and upper-middle classes—no more than 5.3 percent of Hong Kongers are owners—and wholly unnecessary with Hong Kong’s first-rate public transport system soon expanding to the very places where new roads are being planned.

Designing Hong Kong convenor Paul Zimmerman is one of the many people fed up with kowtowing to vehicles. “Road planning here goes on ahead of actual urban planning, and whatever’s left over of the land goes in for zoning at the Town Planning Board,” Zimmerman says, citing the West Kowloon and new Central Waterfront projects as prime examples. Accordingly, Civic Exchange chief executive Christine Loh says, “the government’s planning process gives priority to building roads without considering good town planning or air quality.”

Such rampant road building—ordered by the government ostensibly to relieve both current and future, hypothetical congestion—ruins our cityscape and has exacerbated our already dangerous pollution problem.

Land reclamation for the Central-Wan Chai BypassMuch of this pedestrian-unfriendly urban design is inherited from outdated colonial planning procedures, conceived long before Hong Kong declared itself an aspiring world city. As Friends of the Earth chairman Edwin Lau emphasizes, “rather than sustainable development, in the past everybody was talking about ‘efficiency.’” The official wisdom was that building new, wide roads increased efficiency and reduced congestion. Shortsighted bureaucrats failed to see that without adequate controls on the number of vehicles in the city, more roads would only serve to encourage more cars.
Our government still seems to be trapped in that way of thinking. Together with Wesley Wan, the president of the Hong Kong Automobile Association, they cite a growing influx of cross-border vehicles over the coming decades as one major justification for new roads. Yet as Civil and Structural Engineering Professor Hung Wing-tat of the Polytechnic University points out, “once you build a road, it stimulates development and generates traffic, and you end up with a chicken-and-egg scenario.” Far from thinking ahead, government planners are fixated on short-term goals. Hung believes that “the head of planning just thinks, ‘if I can do this in my term, then I can retire and the next guy can take care of the situation.’”

The existing administrative structure only promotes such narrow-mindedness. Currently, no single authority oversees the design of the city, which is a clumsy, piecemeal process. Professor Patrick Lau, an architect and planning legislator, puts Hong Kong’s “most essential planning and design problems” down to the fact that Roads and Railways Ordinances and the Town Panning Ordinance are entirely separate, despite their overlapping concerns. The Transport Department reports to the Chief Executive, while the Town Planning Board, through which public consultations are held, is powerless to stop its roads, and is forced to zone around them afterwards.

Construction on the Stonecutters BridgeOn top of all this, it doesn’t help that a continuous stream of money is allocated to infrastructure projects by an outdated funding mechanism. In 1982, the colonial government created the Capital Works Reserve Fund, a repository for all revenue from land sales. All money from this fund was designated solely for infrastructure projects. Decades later, when major projects have become not only unnecessary but detrimental to the city’s environment, the fund is still collecting money for them. Rather than redirecting the funds to areas where it might be needed—improving quality of life, addressing the widening rich-poor gap—the government continues to channel it toward unnecessary roads and bridges.

Part of this comes down to the same focus on short-term benefits. Yet many also suggest that the government is susceptible to influence from the developers and construction companies who have profited from such infrastructure projects and have a vested interest in keeping them going. The Route 4 extension is itself being built to provide extra vehicle access to new hotel developments proposed for the area, and Professor Hung notes that “there is further pressure on the government from people who want to develop places such as the Southern District industrial area, with its vacant factories.”

No Exit?
Many experts believe the government and private car owners can get out of our vehicle-centric mindset, but it will take some forceful prodding. Since these new roads are intended to reduce congestion, one obvious alternative would be to reduce the number of cars on the roads. This can be accomplished by introducing more fuel taxes, and higher import and registration taxes for car owners, such as is done in Singapore. The Transport Department’s own records show that such a policy would be effective. During the years 1982 to 1986, the number of private cars licensed in Hong Kong dropped every year due to rising license fees and registration taxes. When the fees and taxes were rescinded in 1987, the number of private car registrations went up again.

Aside from controlling car ownership, congestion can also be reduced through means such as road pricing. Studies on Singaporean-style Electronic Road Pricing have been conducted by the government for more than two decades, yet no measures have ever been implemented. When we pressed the government on the issue, they concedes that road pricing could come into effect on Hong Kong Island, but only after the completion of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass. But many experts agree that that is not enough. According to Zimmerman, road pricing will also soon be necessary in Kowloon too, if you consider the government’s projections for more cross-border traffic in the coming decades. “The new roads to China can only be financed by having more vehicles going over them, and the only way we can stop those vehicles from going to places like Mong Kok is by road pricing, not by simply building more roads elsewhere.”

These measures would all go a long way toward curbing congestion, but would not solve the overall problem of needless, controversial road construction. That would require a comprehensive overhaul of the planning procedures. Road planning would need to be submitted to the Town Planning Board, where the public could be consulted about the bigger picture of the outline zoning plans—as opposed to the piecemeal, post-zoning consultation that happens at the moment. That kind of reform, guided by what is essentially the democratic involvement of the public, might be a little farther down the road than anyone would like.

Roads to Nowehere

As if we haven’t got enough already, the government is planning to build several more highways in the next 30 years. Here’s the short list.

1.  Tuen Mun—Chek Lap Kok Link
To aid in linking the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge to the city, an underwater tunnel will be built to link the Tung Chung exit of the bridge to Tuen Mun. This is also planned to link with the soon-to-be-completed West Tuen Mun Bypass, which will be a major passageway to the western border checkpoint with China.

2. Route 8
We already have two bridges linking Tsing Yi—but soon we’ll have a third. The Stonecutters Bridge (crossing Stonecutters Island), currently under construction, will become the backbone of a new passageway linking Tsing Yi and Cheung Sha Wan. It should be in use by next year.

3. Central Kowloon Bypass
The rationale? Build a highway to link Tsim Sha Tsui to Kai Tak to take enhance the development of the latter. The damage? The route might go straight through Temple Street, destroying one of our most precious cultural gems. Which sounds more important to you?

4. Route 4 (Kennedy Town to Aberdeen)
No one quite understands this—the government has decided to build two rail lines linking Aberdeen and west Hong Kong Island to north Hong Kong Island, and yet they are still considering building a highway linking the two districts. Are we that road-crazy?

5. Central-Wanchai Bypass
Let’s recap—the government says roads in Central and Wan Chai are way too congested and we therefore need to build a new highway linking the two districts. Running out of land to do so? Let’s reclaim some. And of course, many experts believe that the most surefire way to attract more traffic is to build more roads.

A Good Road Model

Think Hong Kong is running out of land for roads? Think of Singapore. The city-state, just two-thirds the size of Hong Kong, has imposed strict measures to control the number of privately owned vehicles on the road. The four major measures they imposed are not exactly rocket science, and our government has been studying them for years. But don’t expect to see them all in action here just quite yet. While we don’t necessarily advocate all of them, certainly a combination of deterants can solve our congestion problems without having to build new roads. Here are the four measures.

Imposing a Quota
Under the Vehicle Quota Scheme, would-be car owners bid each month for a limited number of Certificates of Entitlement, required for purchase of any vehicle and valid for only ten years. Bidding prices are so high (currently almost HK$77,000 for one) that it’s simply stupid to try and get one, unless of course you are fabulously rich.

High Vehicle Taxes
Bidding for a certificate is just the first step in a long and expensive procedure when it comes to owning a car in Singapore. Car buyers need to pay 150 percent of the car’s value as a registration fee, then a 41 percent customs duty, and finally an additional $5,446 fee for a private vehicle.

Yet More Taxes—The Road Tax
Next up are road taxes. They are renewable on a six-month or annual basis and the amount depends on your engine capacity. You also need to have your car inspected every two years (at your cost of course) in order to pay the road tax.

Pricing the Roads
Upon purchasing a car in Singapore, you also have to buy a device for the Electronic Road Pricing system and install it in your vehicle. The system employs a pay per use scheme, with different rates charged depending on which expressway or major road you use and at what time of the day. There is no charge during off-peak hours.

So How Expensive Exactly?

Taking all the above into account, buying an Audi A4 costs you roughly $990,993 in Singapore, while in Hong Kong, only $408,300.

In A Muddle Over Policy

Updated on Apr 14, 2008 – SCMP

There are times when I feel that the government is not being clear-headed about some of its policies.

That the topic of road pricing has been under discussion since 1980 reflects sluggishness on the part of officials, and an inability and sluggishness in solving this problem – and other similar problems like air pollution, health care and education.

The government makes swift decisions on large infrastructure and financial projects and officials are swift to take credit for their success. Handling social problems is not so glamorous – and is often tough.

So, in the end, we can only concur that a cheaper road price levy would be a means to generate more revenue rather than to reduce road congestion in Central District. What has the government to say about this warped logic?

Thomas Yeo, Tuen Mun

Pricey ERP Is Best Choice

Updated on Apr 08, 2008 – SCMP

We have to strongly reconsider the government’s view on air pollution.

Whereas the Wan Chai to Central Bypass seeks to facilitate the current traffic flow through the centre of our city or may even allow the flow to increase, the purpose of electronic road pricing is to reduce the total number of vehicles that will go through Central at a given time.

By linking these two issues (“Bypass could halve levy for drive to Central”, March 30), it is readily apparent that our government’s planning advisers do not care about the problem of air pollution within our city centre and the effect that has on residents and would rather go ahead with an ill-advised public works project that will fail.

Why else would they push for a HK$50 levy through the ERP versus HK$90? Surely a HK$90 levy would make more environmental sense – making more people take public transport versus private vehicles. That the government even suggests a lower levy would be beneficial is ludicrous in the face of the facts.

Mark Chan, Tsing Yi

Other World Cities Have Proved That Road Pricing Works

SCMP – Updated on Apr 06, 2008

Your editorial (“High levy a poor excuse for delaying electronic toll”, March 30) is spot on.

Hong Kong was one of the first cities to consider such a charge, yet despite decades of studies that have indicated positive benefits for electronic road pricing (ERP), a baffling bureaucratic inertia remains.

Even the former secretary for environment, transport and works, Sarah Liao Sau-tung, complained that she had been advised by a senior official that this ERP subject was “untouchable” (“Civil servants can be too inflexible, says Sarah Liao” July 3, 2007).

Is it “untouchable” because the powerful construction lobby and transport engineers want large, costly infrastructure schemes? Unlike these people, the public understands that ERP can have a positive role in the “down-town” areas.

The empirical evidence that ERP can help control both congestion and carbon dioxide emissions is available from other “world cities” where a congestion fee has already been introduced.

This year Milan also imposed an “eco-pass” charge (which is equivalent to HK$115) for entering the inner city.

This charge is expected to lead to a 30 per cent reduction in pollution levels and a 10 per cent reduction in traffic.

The money raised will go towards cycle paths and on improving public transport.

Hong Kong is now trailing in traffic control, pollution control and urban planning.

It appears self-evident that our government is only interested in policies that pour more concrete, regardless of the impact on the environment and the community – for example the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai road bridge, where surely a rail bridge would be a better solution.

Red herrings are common in our harbour, and the government’s confused statements (“Bypass could halve levy for drive to Central”, March 30) indicate that this species is thriving much better than the pink dolphins.

Roger Emmerton, Wan Chai