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Why is diesel now bad news?

8 December 2014

Roger Harrabin

The Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo wants to ban diesel cars and the pollution they bring from the streets of the French capital. But not long ago, diesel engines were thought to be environmentally friendly. What could have gone wrong?

Opinion on diesel cars has swung widely over the years.

Diesel is a more efficient fuel than petrol, but in the past diesel engines were often noisy and dirty.

Then, with growing concerns over climate change, car manufacturers were urged to produce cleaner, quieter diesel cars to capitalise on their extra fuel efficiency.

The cars were fitted with a trap to catch the particles of smoke associated with the fuel. Several governments rewarded the manufacturing improvements by incentivising the purchase and use of diesel cars.

But the policy has backfired.

Going into reverse

First, there have been problems with the particle traps – some drivers have removed them because they sometimes don’t work properly unless the car is driven hot.

Second, the diesels are still producing nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which irritates the lungs of people with breathing problems. Diesels make several times more NO2 than petrol cars.

Now, in order to meet European air pollution laws, politicians are being forced into an embarrassing U-turn, telling drivers that they’ve decided they don’t much like diesels after all.

MPs in the UK have mooted a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, while the mayor of Paris has called for a ban.

Several European nations are currently in breach of EU clean air laws.

The EU’s NO2 limit was exceeded at 301 sites in 2012, including seven in London. The concentration on Marylebone Road was more than double the limit.

Districts in Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Paris, and Rome are also exceeded the ceiling.


Not just carbon: Key pollutants for human health

  • Particulate matter (PM): Can cause or aggravate cardiovascular and lung diseases, heart attacks and arrhythmias. Can cause cancer. May lead to atherosclerosis, adverse birth outcomes and childhood respiratory disease. The outcome can be premature death.
  • Ozone (O3): Can decrease lung function and aggravate asthma and other lung diseases. Can also lead to premature death.
  • Nitrogen oxides (NO2): Exposure to NO2 is associated with increased deaths from heart and lung disease, and respiratory illness.
  • Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in particular benzo a-pyrene (BaP): Carcinogenic.

Politicians are now scurrying to persuade the courts that they are obeying an EU demand to clean up the air as soon as possible.

The Paris mayor said at the weekend that she wanted the city to become ‘semi-pedestrianised’, with a ban on diesel cars in the city centre and some neighbourhoods given entirely to residents’ cars, delivery vehicles and emergency vehicles.

“I want diesel cars out of Paris by 2020,” she said.

Ms Hidalgo hopes that her plan will improve the quality of the air in a city where, on average, people live six or seven months less than those who are not exposed to the same levels of pollution.

Adding electric vans and putting limits on tourist buses would also help lessen the public health risk, she said.

Premature death

Bikes are expected to become the favoured form of transport, with cycle lanes doubled by 2020 in a $141m (£90m) plan.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has promised to halve pollution, spending around $516m (£330m) to bring 2,400 hybrid buses, zero-emission taxis and 10,000 street trees. The announcement came weeks after he was forced to accept that Oxford Street has some of the highest levels of NO2 in the world.

Central London will also have an ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’ in 2020. Mr Johnson has previously faced criticism from health and environment lobby groups complaining that he was dragging his feet in meeting EU targets.

The UK government says it is responding to EU demands by bringing forward new plans. Labour say the government has ignored the issue – they demand low-emissions zones in all of the UK’s major cities.

According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution is the top environmental risk factor for premature death in Europe; it increases the incidence of a wide range of diseases.

Particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone (O3) are the most harmful pollutants.

Vehicles are by no means the only source of pollutants – some industries are major polluters too, and shipping in some places. But the politicians who run Europe’s biggest cities have protested that they cannot control pollution from industry elsewhere that drifts into their area.

With so many nations failing to meet pollution laws, the EU is under pressure to relax air standards.

Taxpayer funds the Hybrid Green Technology import instead of Govt making tougher laws and Clean Air Zones to make the bus companies buy hybrids

For discussion FCR(2011-12)4
on 15 April 2011

Subhead 700 General non-recurrent
New Item “Trial of Hybrid Buses by Franchised Bus Companies”

Members are invited to approve the creation of a new
commitment of $33 million for funding the full cost of
procuring six hybrid buses for trial by the franchised
bus companies in Hong Kong.


Franchised buses are one of the major causes of roadside air pollution
on busy corridors. We need to implement improvement measures to reduce
emissions from franchised buses.


2. The Director of Environmental Protection, with the support of
the Secretary for the Environment, proposes to create a new commitment of
$33 million to fund the full cost of procuring six hybrid buses to be used by the
franchised bus companies for trial along busy corridors to assess their operational
efficiency, emission performance and economic feasibility in local operational

3. Subject to the funding approval by the Finance Committee, we plan
to work with the franchised bus companies to procure six hybrid buses in this year.
Allowing one year for delivery, the trial could commence within 2012.

Bloomberg: Hong Kong’s Pollution Near 6-Month High (Nov 2013)

from David Ingles, reporting for Bloomberg on the high levels of air pollutants in Hong Kong’s air last month.

Jason Lerwill, an air specialist at Renaud Lifestyle Products (retailers for air purifier systems), mentions three major contributors to air pollutants in the city: shipping in the Pearl River Delta, roadside pollution, and factory emissions across the border. Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment, speaks enthusiastically about policies to reduce vehicle emissions, but mentions nothing about shipping and factory emissions.

4 Nov 2013

Science Daily: Air Pollution Puts the Health of School Children at Risk

from Science Daily:

A recently completed study by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) on 310 children in 12 schools across the territory found the air pollution level along the traveling routes from home to schools and particulate levels outside school both at a very high level, and most of the school children have lung function weaker than the predicted levels.

The study was done by Dr Hung Wing-tat, Professor Frank Lee Shun-cheng and Ms Lee Sin-hang of the University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. They found that children in only two out of twelve surveyed schools have lung function better than predicted levels, whilst children in the remaining ten schools have lung function weaker than the predicted levels.

The study also found that carbon dioxide levels inside five of the twelve school classrooms are found to be higher than the stipulated good class level of HK Indoor Air Quality (HKIAQ), probably due to the presence of full class of students within the monitoring period.

PolyU researchers also collected information about the traveling patterns of these 310 school children and then monitored the air pollution level along the traveling routes of the subjects. About 48% of school children go to school on foot, the second most popular choice is the school bus (24%). They found that both PM10 and PM2.5 levels in various transportation modes are high.

It is worth noting that PM2.5 levels far exceed the stipulated health levels of WHO safety level of 75 µg/m3 (24 hours average) and the situation in school buses is worst. The total volatile organic compound (TVOC) levels in all transportation modes far exceed the good class level of HKIAQ and the situation in school buses is worst.

The study also found that allergic rhinitis is very common among local school children (ranging from 13% to 59.3% in schools). Allergic rhinitis is found to be related to tobacco smoking household, incense burning at home and molds at home. However, molds and mildews are common (25.9% to 62.5%) in household because of the humid weather.

Children in tobacco smoking households also have significantly poorer lung function. The study found high percentages of smokers in the households, ranging from 25.0% to 69.6%. One of the key findings is that Lung function of school children, FVC and FEV1 are found to be negatively co-related with PM10 levels in classrooms at 0.05 significant levels. It is critical to suppress the level of PM10 in classroom to protect the health of school children.

Pulmonary function tests were conducted on surveyed school pupils to assess their lung function, which was measured by a spirometer in this study.

The above story is based on materials provided by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

19 Nov 2013

SCMP: Idling engine ban has failed to clear the air

from Ernest Kao of the SCMP:

A law banning idling engines has come under fire for having only a minimal impact on improving air quality, nearly two years after it was introduced.

Lawmakers said the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance had not stopped idling engines, which caused pollution and were a nuisance to pedestrians.

Environment chief Wong Kam-sing defended the ban, which came into effect in December 2011, saying it had reduced the number of complaints about roadside discomfort caused by hot exhaust fumes and noise pollution.

Environment bureau statistics show that in the past two years, 3,070 idling vehicles were timed but only 86 fines were issued. Most were handed out to drivers of non-franchised buses and private vehicles.

The number of idling engine complaints had dropped 40 per cent, from 1,802 last year to about 1,000 this year. (SCMP)


Mingpao: Electric vehicles in HK numbers 552; 147 owned by Government

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing says that as of October 2013, there are 552 electric vehicles on the roads of Hong Kong, more than twice the number in 2011. 147 of the vehicles are part of the vehicle fleet of the SAR government, who has slated for an addition of another 74 vehicles by early 2014.

Mr. Wong was responding in writing to queries from Legco member Chan Hak-kan Gary. The government, in an effort to promote the development of the electric vehicle market, introduced electric vehicles into its fleet across various departments, but electric vehicles have yet to become popular in Hong Kong.

Mr. Wong also said that feedback from government departments regarding electric vehicles have been positive. There is, however, a lack of available models on the market for special purposes vehicles such as waste collection vehicles, street cleaning vehicles, ambulances etc., which limits the number of electric vehicles in the fleet of government vehicles.

Electric vehicle, part of the HK government's fleet of vehicles; pictured with a charging station. (EPD)


Air pollution recognized as carcinogenic, also linked to prenatal development problems

The World Health Organization (WHO) has finally reported that air pollution causes cancer: vehicle, industrial and other forms of emissions fill the air with a toxic cocktail of chemicals and particulate matter. Meanwhile, the Guardian also reports that air pollution, combined with an environment of heavy traffic, increases the likelihood of babies being born with low birthweight, which leads to other health problems. With Hong Kong suffering from both problems, the government will need to put its foot down to improve the situation if it is serious about improving its citizens’ health.

When pollution strikes hard: Air quality in March 2010 (left), compared to better days. (WSJ)

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KMB argues improving bus and road efficiency more impactful than changing out old fleet

In response to Ernest Kao’s article in SCMP on the benefits of replacing older buses in Hong Kong’s bus fleet, KMB’s representative Evan Auyang wrote in to SCMP, asking instead for help and support in bus route reorganisations and improvements in transport efficiency of roads. Which would of course, by his own admission, cost “nothing” (to KMB) and by extension increase their profitability.

Below is his letter, published in SCMP’s letters on 2 Oct 2013:

I refer to the report, (“Removing old buses saves lives, says study“, September 17).

We at KMB would say that it is not only realistic, but also desirable, to remove older buses from Hong Kong’s roads. This is not only good for the environment, but also good for our economy.

However, there is a more cost-effective way to do this: remove buses by improving efficiency. While replacing buses is financially costly, pushing efficiency costs nothing, with impact as large (if not larger) than technological upgrades.

The fact is that we have simply too many buses inefficiently serving several urban areas of Hong Kong. For example, in the five districts of Kowloon alone (Sham Shui Po, Kowloon City, Kwun Tong, Wong Tai Sin, Yau Tsim Mong), KMB has nearly 1,000 buses dedicated to serve these areas. Many routes are not only duplicated with the MTR, but also minibus routes and KMB’s own routes.

According to KMB, tackling route and road congestion should take priority over replacing old buses. (SCMP)

The government is currently working with bus operators to reorganise bus routes for greater efficiency, but the progress is far too slow. With only 5 per cent of the network reorganised after nine months of intense consultation and lobbying work with the districts, it would take over 10 years to complete this exercise if the decision-making after consultations could not be expedited.

Moreover, route reorganisation itself is insufficient to tackle the inefficiencies of road-based public transport.

While the government has shown great foresight in building up a world-class railway system as the backbone of Hong Kong’s public transport system, there is insufficient investment and policy support to ensure road-based mass transport is efficient to complement the railway system.

Our roads are increasingly congested with no signs of abatement.

For example, 99 per cent of KMB’s bus routes experienced an increase in journey times at an average of 16 per cent during the past five years. Average bus speeds could be increased by 25 per cent in our city, which would translate into a reduction of over 1,000 buses on our roads while keeping the same service frequencies and at faster journey times. Picking this “low-hanging fruit” means that we can simply remove these buses without needing to upgrade them.

In high-density international cities such as London, Singapore, Seoul and Taipei, there is policy focus on mass transport efficiency. Average bus speeds are always monitored and simple actions such as traffic enforcement at “black spots” have been effective.

Evan Auyang, deputy managing director, KMB

HK$3b extra spent to force 85,000 polluting diesel vehicles off the road

Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:28pm

NewsHong Kong


Cheung Chi-fai and Shirley Zhao

Revised plan to force 85,000 polluting diesel vehicles off the road by 2020 has been broadly welcomed, but green groups are disappointed

Greater incentives are now being offered by the government as part of a revised HK$11.7 billion package designed to force 85,000 polluting diesel commercial vehicles off the road by 2020.

The package, which officials said was in the best interests of the public, was generally welcomed by the transport trades. However, it came under fire from clean air advocates unhappy with the Environment Bureau.

“This is in the best public interest as the longer it drags on, the more people will suffer from the pollution. Our primary aim is to ensure that that scheme can secure support from the lawmakers and the trade, and be implemented,” said one environment official.

The scheme, along with a proposal to limit operating life of new diesel vehicles at 15 years, will require endorsement from the environmental affairs panel next week, before a funding request is filed. Officials hope it can be rolled out in the first quarter of next year at the earliest.

The new package will cost HK$3 billion more than the original estimate of HK$8.7 billion – though up to HK$10 billion had been earmarked by the Financial Secretary. The compensation will be boosted from 10-33 per cent of new vehicle replacement costs to 27-33 per cent.

Owners will be entitled to the same payment whether or not they buy a new vehicle. They could also use the subsidy to buy a used vehicle. The 19,000 most polluting pre-Euro diesel vehicles, which are at least 18 years old, will be removed as scheduled before 2016. About 64,000 vehicles, of Euro I, II and III emission standards, will have their deadlines extended by one year to 2017, 2018 and 2020.

But green groups were disappointed. “If we follow the carrot and stick principle, it is reasonable for the public to expect that public health will be adequately protected with the HK$11.7 billion taxpayers’ money spent,” said Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung, from Friends of the Earth.

Kwong Sum-yin, from the Clean Air Network, accused the bureau of “giving up its bottom line”.

The government estimates that removing dirty diesel vehicles could reduce roadside particles by 80 per cent, and cut cancer risks by 50 per cent. The World Health Organisation says diesel emissions are carcinogenic.

Wong Kam-sing, Secretary for the Environment, was “cautiously optimistic” that the revised scheme would be accepted.

“We hope the air quality in Hong Kong by 2020 will meet the new and more stringent standards that will be in effect next year,” he said.

Yuen Cheung-fung, deputy secretary for rights and interests with the Motor Transport Workers General Union, said they reluctantly accepted the revision because the increased subsidy met their lowest request.

But he still expected about 20,000 vehicle owners aged 56 to 63 to scrap their vehicles, get the subsidy and retire, because they would not be able to afford a new vehicle and would have difficulty finding other jobs.

Chiang Chi-wai, chairman of Lok Ma Chau China-Hong Kong Freight Association, said representatives of a total of nine fleet operators’ associations all agreed with the revised package. “Although we asked for a maximum of 40 per cent subsidy, the revision is quite close to our request,” he said. “We think the plan can pass the legislature, because it’s not a huge increase of subsidy.”

Labour-sector legislator Tang Ka-piu worried that sellers of new models might raise prices because of the subsidy, and said owners might also find it difficult to fix their vehicles because many repairers did not know how to work on the newer types.

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Kowloon 80th Aniiversary

Wrights Group congratulate Kowloon Motor Bus Company (1933) Limited on their 80thAnniversary and wish them continuous success for the future.


16 May 2013 by Marketing, in News

PM launches Great Global Bus Tour in New York

Prince Harry and UK Prime Minister David Cameron promote Britain as a world class destination for trade, tourism and investment…..



14 May 2013 by Marketing, in News

David Cameron and Prince Harry catch the bus for New York appearance

Prime minister to team up with prince aboard one of London’s new Routemasters as part of campaign to promote Britain….


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