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Electronic road pricing plan for Hong Kong’s Central district slammed by local councillors

Government should instead target rampant illegal parking in business district as way to ease congestion, they say

Central district councillors on Thursday united in bashing the government’s plan to introduce electronic road pricing in the neighbourhood, saying the policy by itself could not ease chronic road congestion and pollution in Hong Kong’s core business district.

They argued the government should instead prioritise confronting problems such as rampant illegal parking and the lack of parking spaces.

Liberal Party councillor Joseph Chan Ho-lim, representing the Peak constituency, said the root cause of traffic jams in Central was widespread double-parking in key arteries such as Queen’s Road Central and Chater Road.

“Right now, the problem of severe congestion in Central is not about more cars or fewer cars coming to Central. The problem is the cars in Central don’t move at all,” said Chan. “Why the cars don’t move? It’s because of illegal parking … parts of the roads are always blocked.

“What angers me the most is when the police and traffic officers see illegal parking, they don’t issue a ticket and just ask them to leave.”

Council vice-chairman Chan Hok-fung questioned why a road tax was needed at all.

“It’s illegal parking. We said this 90,000 times in district council … but nothing was done to alleviate [it],” said Chan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong .

“We are going to have the Central-Wan Chai Bypass. Is there a need to do electronic road pricing? Why can’t we wait until the bypass is opened?”

The bypass is a highway being built to alleviate congestion in Central, but it will not open in 2017 as scheduled because of technical difficulties.

Cheng lai-king, of the Democratic Party, worried the road tax would be implemented at the expense of residents in Mid-Levels.

“I felt angry after reading the documents,” Cheng said. “It’s punishing the residents of Mid-Levels. Some streets in the area aren’t served by public transport and driving is a must.”

Kam Nai-wai, of Sheung Wan constituency, blamed the government for creating the congestion in the first place because of poor town planning.

“There is so much commercial development in Central. This was the reason why there was so much more traffic into the area in the first place,” he said. “There is a car park in Murray Road but [the government] is planning to remove it.”

In response, principal assistant secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport), Cordelia Lam Wai-ki, reiterated the administration currently holds “an open attitude” on electronic road pricing, which is only one of the 12 suggestions it was studying to ease traffic jams in the city.

“We are not only relying on electronic road pricing to solve traffic congestion,” said Lam. “Last year, the Transport Advisory Committee suggested to increase fixed the penalty for illegal parking by 50 per cent from HK$320 to HK$488. We are working on it.

“As to the details of [electronic road pricing], we haven’t set any framework and we want to hear your voice.”

The public consultation on the road tax ends next Friday.
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New HK$43.7bn Kowloon highway project to cost 3.4 times more than expected

The financial budget unveiled on Wednesday revealed that the latest estimates for the new Central Kowloon route highway project stand at HK$43.7 billion. The sum is 3.4 times more than original the amount tabled in 2002.

The infrastructure project is set to commence during the next financial year. According to the Highways Department website, the highway will extend for 4.7km from Yau Ma Tei through to the Kai Tak Development and Kowloon Bay. It is expected to relieve traffic congestion in Central Kowloon and includes a 3.9km long tunnel.

It is predicted that the construction of the highway will take seven years and could be online by 2023.

Proposed Central Kowloon route. Photo: GovHK.

Proposed Central Kowloon route. Photo: GovHK.

The cost of the project was adjusted in 2002, when it was proposed that the highway could carry three lanes instead of two. It was then predicted that the project will cost HK$10 billion. Now, at HK$43.7 billion, each kilometre averages HK$9.2 billion, much higher than the high-speed rail’s average cost at HK$3.2 billion per kilometre, Ming Pao reported.

The Executive Council authorised the project last month, but no price was stated in the gazette, RTHK reported.

Proposed Central Kowloon route. Photo:

Proposed Central Kowloon route. Photo:

The Professional Commons convenor Albert Lai Kwong-tak said that it was unreasonable for the project to have a threefold increase in cost and said the government could be overestimating the cost of the project due to pressure surrounding over expenditure in projects in recent years.

“It’s a self-defence mechanism – better to overestimate than underestimate,” he said.

The Highways Department has yet to respond to media inquiries by RTHK and Ming Pao.

How poor air quality in Hong Kong is damaging your skin – and the cancer risks to watch for

Traffic-related air pollution can cause dark spots, known as lentigines or “liver spots”, on the skin of Asian women over the age of 50, some forms of which may be pre-cancerous, say researchers
Air pollution caused by traffic can do more than just wreak havoc on your respiratory system – it may also cause the formation of dark spots on the skin, according to a new study by German and Chinese researchers.

These dark spots, also known as lentigines, were most obvious on the cheeks of Asian women over the age of 50, say the researchers, writing in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The study involved about 1,550 women, roughly half of whom were German and the other half Han Chinese from the Taizhou region in Jiangsu province.

Lentigines, also known as liver spots, are small, darkened areas of the skin. Although they may first appear small, they may enlarge and separate patches may merge. They are most commonly found on the face, forearms, hands, and upper trunk. Usually brown, lentigines can appear yellow-tan to black. They are generally benign, although some may be pre-cancerous.

“In addition to particulate matter, traffic-related air pollution is characterised by increased concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). While NO2 exposure is known to be associated with low lung function and lung cancer, its effect on human skin has never been investigated. This is important because environmentally induced lung and skin ageing appear to be closely related,” says lead investigator Dr Jean Krutmann of the IUF-Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Dusseldorf.

The 806 German women had an average age of 73½ years (range 67 to 80 years) and 20 per cent had a history of smoking. These women reportedly spent an average of just over 2½ hours a day in the sun. Their average level of NO2 exposure was 28.8 micrograms per cubic metre.

The 743 Chinese women had an average age of 59 (range 28 to 70 years). Twenty per cent of this group had a history of smoking, with a reported average daily sun exposure of 3½ hours. Their average level of NO2 exposure was 24.1 micrograms/m3.

Overall, an increase of 10 micrograms/m3 in NO2 concentration was associated with approximately 25 per cent more dark spots. No association was seen between levels of NO2 and lentigines’ formation on the back of the hands or forearms. However, exposure to NO2 was significantly associated with more lentigines on the cheeks in German and Chinese women older than 50 years.

The average NO2 level in Hong Kong in 2015 was 98 micrograms/m3 (roadside air pollution) according to figures from the Environmental Protection Department.

The researchers performed sensitivity analysis and found that NO2 gas had a slightly greater impact on dark spot formation than the particulate matter concentration.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest epidemiological study demonstrating a link between traffic-related air pollution and the formation of lentigines,” notes co-investigator Li Jin of Fudan University’s State Key Laboratory of Genetic Engineering and the Fudan-Taizhou Institute of Health Sciences in Jiangsu, China. “The findings also strengthen the concept that the pathogenesis of lentigines might differ depending on the anatomical site.”

The effects of air pollution can persist for more than three decades after exposure, a separate new study by researchers at Imperial College London has found.

The researchers followed 368,000 people in England and Wales over a 38-year period and estimated air pollution levels in the areas where the individuals lived in 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001, using measurements from Britain’s extensive historic air pollution monitoring networks.

Highest risks were seen for respiratory disease, such as bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia, as well as mortality risk from cardiovascular disorders, such as heart disease.

The study found that for every additional unit of pollution (equivalent to 10 micrograms/m3) that people were exposed to in 1971, the risk of mortality in 2002 to 2009 increased by two per cent.

The researchers also looked at more recent exposure and found a 24 per cent increase in mortality risk in 2002 to 2009 for each additional unit of pollution people were exposed to in 2001.

“Our study found more recent exposures were more important for mortality risk than historic exposures, but we need to do more work on how air pollution affects health over a person’s entire lifetime,” says Dr Anna Hansell, lead author of the study published in the journal Thorax. “We were surprised to find pollution has effects on mortality that persist over three decades after exposure.”

Hansell, however, adds that it’s important to remember that the effects of air pollution are small compared to other risk factors like whether you smoke, how much you exercise, whether you are overweight, as well as medical factors such as your blood pressure.

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Congestion charging ‘no instant cure’ for traffic gridlock

Paul Cowperthwaite, the general manager for congestion charging at Transport for London.

As Hong Kong decides on how to deal with traffic gridlock, the boss of London’s congestion charging scheme said any similar system in Hong Kong should not be expected to bring benefits overnight.

Officials are more than halfway through a three-month public consultation on the impact of a pricing scheme to ease Central’s notorious traffic jams.

The government has said it was no longer a matter of whether, but how, to start charging road users.

Paul Cowperthwaite, the general manager for congestion charging at Transport for London (TfL), told the Sunday Morning Post Hong Kong could succeed in changing habits and overcoming road blocks to any such scheme, but should not expect miracles.

“One of the key things for any city: Don’t assume you’ve solved the problem on day one,” he said, adding “what we’ve always done is keep the scheme under review so it’s having an impact.”

He added that congestion charging had “become a part of everyday life in London” that worked.

Opponents of the Hong Kong plans believe an increase in fines for illegal parking would be adequate to ease traffic jams, rather than the government’s two-pronged approach of raising the parking fines and charging for driving in Central.

The latest statistics by TfL showed 18 per cent fewer vehicles entering the congestion charge zone and traffic within the paid area down 15 per cent, leading to 70,000 fewer daily car trips during charging hours, 30 per cent less congestion and 40 per cent fewer traffic accidents since 2003.

The British capital will celebrate the scheme’s 13th birthday next Wednesday, having raised £1.4 billion to reinvest in roads and public transport schemes.

Cowperthwaite said it was important to have full political backing to any congestion charge.

“There are a number of key steps we can share from London. Having strong political support. London was lucky that we both mayors who strongly supported the scheme,” he said.

More than three decades have passed since a road charging scheme was first floated in Hong Kong.

Similarly, London spent almost four decades talking before implementing a congestion charge in full.

ERP not the perfect solution to congestion – Letters to the Editor

The public consultation process into electronic road pricing (ERP) is ongoing and will end next month.

Under an ERP scheme drivers would have to pay fees when they pass through certain parts of the city, such as congested urban areas.

It has been adopted successfully in a number of cities, including London and Singapore, although the pricing mechanism by each local authority is different.

The Hong Kong government is particularly keen to launch the scheme in Central, because the traffic congestion there is so serious and causes problems for the many people who are based in offices there.

However, we have to ask if it would be effective in an area of the city like the central business district (CBD).

Many professionals who work there are employed on good salaries in large companies and they are generally fairly well-off.

They travel to work by private car because they can afford to do so and it is convenient. They may not be worried by ERP charges and will be happy to pay them so they can continue to drive into and out of the CBD.

The other problem is that if a lot of them did leave their cars at home after the introduction of ERP, they would travel on buses, minibuses and the MTR and this could exacerbate overcrowding on public transport networks.

The best solution is for companies to coordinate car pooling so that cars going into the CBD carry more passengers.

Also more flexible working times could be introduced, because at the moment most people are travelling to and from work at the same time.

We could also look at the system used in some mainland cities where cars have -access on certain days according to their licence plates.

I do hope the government will be able to find ways to alleviate the traffic problems and serious congestion in Central.

Donald Chan, Tseung Kwan O
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Cars aren’t the major culprits of air pollution – Letters to the editor

It is depressing that “Clean Air Network believes demand-led management of private cars is the only effective means to … lower roadside air pollution in Hong Kong”, as Ms Kwong Sum Yin, the chief executive officer of the organisation, declares in her recent letter (“Restricting car usage is the only effective way to cut air pollution in Hong Kong [1]”, January 27).

Her misguided primary focus on cars is wrong for two reasons. First, it is wildly inaccurate. In 2013, the government produced a detailed analysis of the sources of roadside pollution by nitrogen oxides and PM10. Private cars then made up about 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s vehicles. But they contributed a mere 3 per cent of nitrogen oxide pollution, and 2 per cent of PM10. Goods vehicles contributed 44 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively, of these pollutants.

The dangers from private cars are minuscule, not just in absolute terms, but also in relative terms. A franchised bus produces 618 times more nitrogen oxides than a private car, while a minibus produces 398 times more PM10 than a private car, though being of similar size. In addition, cars run relatively infrequently, while lorries and buses are used continuously. Restricting private cars will have negligible impact on pollution, relative to the impact of better controlling buses and lorries.

The second reason Ms Kwong is wrong is that by attacking the private car owner (though I agree we should use road pricing to reduce congestion), she alienates the middle class while taking the heat off the vested interests that continue to spew poisons into our air and into the lungs of our children. This should not be Clean Air Network’s mission.

Our political leaders should engage this public health issue, and directly attack those who resist cleaning up our air and put private profit before public health.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels

ERP submission by Clear the Air

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Pollution, food waste and heavy traffic: what Hong Kong’s chief executive should focus on in 2016

Edwin Lau says Hongkongers shouldn’t hesitate to let Leung Chun-ying know what he can do to make Hong Kong a more liveable place

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s invitation to the public to contribute their views to his preparation for the upcoming policy address is a wonderful opportunity to suggest ways to make Hong Kong more liveable.

Climate change is a pressing global challenge. At the UN climate summit in Paris [2], 20 countries including China and the US launched the Mission Innovation [3] initiative with a collective commitment of US$20 billion to accelerate global clean energy innovation. So how much will the Leung administration commit to the climate challenge?

Here are some suggestions of what we can do:

  • Vegetation targets. Hong Kong is fortunate to have a natural carbon sink in our country parks, as long as we don’t allow housing development to encroach on them. We should set targets for vegetation coverage in the country parks and throughout the city.
  • Des Voeux Road Central. To improve air quality, congested Des Voeux Road Central should be turned into a vehicle-free zone [4], with water features to mitigate the concrete-jungle feel. This would persuade people to walk or take public transport, which is good for public health. Leung should learn from the South Korean government, which removed an elevated highway in Seoul’s city centre to revitalise the Cheonggyecheon stream, now an urban park.
  • Food waste. More than 3,600 tonnes of food waste is created daily in Hong Kong. Although our government plans to build three organic waste treatment facilities between 2016 and 2021, the total daily capacity they can handle is only 800 tonnes, or 22 per cent of our food waste.
  • Hong Kong still does not have a waste charging law. If food waste recycling was made mandatory, all private food waste recyclers would operate round the clock to help achieve the government target of reducing food waste disposal at landfills by 40 per cent by 2022.
  • Energy efficiency. Publicising the energy utilisation index of all buildings would be a cost-effective way to encourage these buildings, through peer pressure, to improve their energy efficiency. Currently, the law requires only commercial buildings to declare their index, whereas government buildings are exempted.
  • Energy savings. There should be a government-led programme for generating “negawatts” – energy saved instead of consumed, which is the cleanest energy of all. If Hong Kong’s 7 million residents each generate just one “negawatt” a day, Hong Kong would save 1.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

The question is, will Leung take the lead and implement these suggestions?

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Time to pay up: Hong Kong parking fines to increase by 50pc from 2017 to tackle city traffic


Tony Cheung

The transport minister adds that public to be consulted over electronic road pricing pilot scheme in Central

Parking fines will increase by 50 per cent in 2017 while the public will be consulted on an electronic road pricing pilot scheme in Central, the transport minister announced today in an effort to tackle the city’s notorious traffic congestion.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung told the media that the sharp hike in the fines was necessary as it had not been increased since 1994.

“During that time, consumer prices have increased by 50 per cent,” said Cheung of the 21-year period. “Illegal parking cases also increased by 44 per cent from 750,000 cases in 2010 to about 1.08 million last year.”

He said the 50 per cent increase meant that the current fines, HK$320 and HK$450 for different vehicles, would be raised to HK$480 and HK$680 respectively.

The government was also launching a three-month public consultation on how to implement electronic road pricing in Central, the city’s financial district.

Cheung said it was a question of how, not whether, the pricing system should be implemented. But he said when, how and how much a driver would be charged, as well as how much it would cost, would be answered after the consultation exercise.

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Report on Study of Road Traffic Congestion in Hong Kong

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