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January 5th, 2010:

Dirty, old vehicles in the cross hairs

SCMP, Cheung Chi-fai
5th Jan, 2010

Tougher measures might be considered to phase out old and dirty diesel commercial vehicles given that a voluntary replacement scheme had received a lukewarm response, a senior environment official said yesterday. They could include forcing owners of such vehicles to replace them.

The scheme, which expires at the end of March, provides HK$3.2 billion for cash grants to operators who switch to cleaner vehicles. Since its launch in March 2007, just 13,000 applications have been approved, and of the money, HK$2 billion remains unused. There are still 39,000 of these old diesel vehicles on the road. That is 20,000 fewer than in 2007, but of the 20,000 some 5,800 have simply been deregistered by their owners.

The vehicles are classified as pre-Euro or Euro I, meaning they were built either before the European Union introduced its first (Euro I) restrictions on truck and bus exhaust emissions in 1992, or before they were tightened in 1996. The current Euro V standards are between 62 per cent and 94 per cent tighter than Euro I standards.

Dr Kitty Poon Kit, acting Secretary for the Environment, told the Legislative Council’s subcommittee on improving air quality the government had written to owners of these remaining vehicles reminding them to submit applications for grants under the scheme soon.

However, she said it was not known how many more owners would take up the offer given that the economic downturn had hit the transport sector hard.

Poon said that, as well as the “carrot” of replacement grants, the government would consider wielding a stick – by compelling owners to scrap their polluting vehicles. However, she ruled out the administration buying the vehicles. Last year lawmakers rejected a proposal to increase licence fees for older vehicles, citing the economic downturn.