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July 31st, 2008:

Heatstroke Fear Cited In Campaign Against Idling Ban

May Chan, SCMP – Jul 31, 2008

Taxi, minibus and bus drivers have demanded that the government shelve plans for a law next year banning idling engines, citing the risk of heatstroke in summer.

Representatives from the Motor Transport Workers General Union said yesterday temperatures inside the vehicles could top 40 degrees Celsius within minutes of the air conditioning being turned off.

The union organised for Environment Bureau officials to sit inside an unventilated taxi on July 22, with the temperature rising from 25 degrees to 50 in less than half an hour after the driver turned off the air conditioner.

Union second vice-chairman Chung Lin-wah said overheated vehicles could become “time bombs” threatening the safety of road users and the general public.

“We urge the government to take responsibility for ensuring road safety, as well as a decent, safe working environment for drivers,” Mr Chung said. “The legislative plan for a ban on idling engines is unrealistic. It does not consider the particulars of Hong Kong’s climate, and the potential dangers to drivers in overheated vehicles.

“Imagine what would happen if drivers should suffer from heatstroke when they are driving. It would be a very violent, bloody picture that none of us would want to see.”

He also called on the Kowloon Motor Bus Company to speed up the replacement of its 200 or so non-air-conditioned buses.

Heat was cited as a factor in the death of a man in his 80s on Saturday. On the same day, the driver of a non-air-conditioned KMB bus had to stop driving after being overcome by the heat and called an ambulance.

Even drivers of air-conditioned buses can be affected by the heat. Lam Miu-ling, another KMB driver, felt unwell after getting into a hot bus on Sunday and had to take four days of sick leave.

Chu Pun-din, director of the New World First Bus branch of the union, said more drivers than normal had been calling in sick over the past week because of the heatwave.

He urged bus companies to review staff policies to ensure drivers took adequate breaks in summer.

A KMB spokesman said all its non-air-conditioned buses would be retired by 2012. He also said the company had seen no significant rise in sick leave taken by drivers in the past two weeks.

A New World First Bus spokeswoman said drivers’ break times were  sufficient.

A Transport Department spokesman said it reviewed companies’ bus-retirement plans every year and no bus could be in service for longer than 17 years.

An Environment Bureau spokesman said the government was still analysing opinion from the transport sector and other groups on the proposed ban on idling engines.

Nation Must Embrace Green Games Message

Updated on Jul 31, 2008 – SCMP

I am sure China will shine when it takes to the world stage with next month’s Olympic Games.

However, while China is flying high, we should not forget that 25 per cent of people on the mainland drink unhygienic water, one third of people living in cities breathe hazardous air, and 70 per cent of cancer deaths are related to environmental pollution. This undermines people’s lives and state stability. It will be a tough challenge to take the concept of a green Olympics beyond the Games.

The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) made 20 promises on the environment. Some such as construction of a public transport network and sewage management system have already been accomplished with targets exceeded. Nonetheless there is still room for improvement in Beijing.

For instance, although Bocog formulated a set of compliance guides on building materials for the construction of Olympics venues, companies submitting tenders were not obliged to comply with these terms, so some building materials are likely to be environmentally unfriendly.

The lack of information from Bocog makes it difficult for green groups to examine the green works of the Games. Although the Olympics has encouraged measures such as energy-saving technology and a better public transport network, we still do not know if total greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced. If it can be shown these measures have worked they can be more effectively promoted nationwide.

Beijing’s air quality should give grave cause for concern. It is undeniably worse than other international cities.

Between 2000 and 2006, Beijing’s domestic productivity increased by 144 per cent and the number of vehicles rose by 91 per cent. Yet total emissions of air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide have both been reduced by more than 10 per cent. This reflects the efforts of Bocog and the Beijing government. Non-governmental organisations have offered green solutions to Bocog. For example, Greenpeace successfully lobbied Coca-Cola to commit to climate-friendly coolers and vending machines in all official venues in Beijing and six other co-host cities including Hong Kong. These green units feature hydro fluorocarbon (HFC)-free insulation and HFC-free natural refrigerant. HFCs are potent greenhouse gases.

It is important to ensure the series of environmental policies is sustained and further developed beyond the Olympics and to extend them to the more environmentally challenged regions in China.

Edward Chan, Greenpeace campaign manager