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May 8th, 2010:

Clear the Air says: Idling vehicle engines

engine-idling2For those who still believe the Government of Hong Kong has done a good job with our environmental problems, this letter from the deputy director of the EPD , published some 11 years ago, demonstrates the apathy of the Hong Kong Government to act. Now, 11 years later the Government wants to allow a 3 minute ‘legal to pollute’ idling engine exemption and to issue a ticket to the driver, not the vehicle owner (as in parking contraventions ) for the offence – only large diesel vehicles need an idling period to fill their airbrake reservoirs to allow the brakes to be released and if two licence holders in the vehicle swap the driver’s seat position every 170 seconds they can run their idling engines all day without getting a ticket. Taking a leaf out of the Government book for the anti smoking legislation (implement  new legislation but deliberately allocate meagre insufficient enforcement manpower resources thus rendering the law ineffective) the Government has decided to add a whopping 18 additional traffic wardens to help enforce the ‘new’ idling engine legislation throughout Hong Kong.

Idling engines not significant air polluters

Updated on Nov 20, 1999

Your correspondent Ted Thomas (South China Morning Post, November 6) retells the tale of the London smog which killed many thousands up until the early 1950s, when legislation was introduced to control it.

The London smog was caused by the burning of fuels that were high in sulphur and a very similar situation existed in Hong Kong throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Our problem was caused by emissions from industrial buildings and power stations, but in some areas was so acute that the steel fittings on residential buildings adjacent to industrial areas were dissolving in the acid rain produced by these emissions.

The Air Pollution Control Ordinance, passed in 1983, was intended to prevent these hazardous emissions, but by the late 1980s many establishments had found loopholes in that legislation. In 1990, the Environmental Protection Department developed the Fuel Restriction Regulations, which when implemented in June of that year transformed many districts of Hong Kong, much as, decades earlier, the Clean Air Act had cleared the air in British cities.

We have photos, taken only a week apart in 1990, which demonstrate the dramatic improvement that was brought about by the introduction of the new controls.

Mr Thomas also referred to the issue of idling vehicle engines. Whilst the emissions from idling engines are not a significant contributor to our overall air pollution problems, in some locations they can be not just a nuisance, but an unacceptable impact on the health of nearby pedestrians.

Typical problematic locations are enclosed public transport terminuses and narrow streets where lines of taxis or buses wait with engines idling, such as Jardine’s Bazaar in Causeway Bay and Beach Road in Repulse Bay. No doubt readers will recall many similar locations.

In many communities, it is socially unacceptable to let your engine idle, just as it is to leave your taps running or your lights on when no one is at home. In some communities, legislation has been introduced to prohibit the idling of engines.

However, in almost all that legislation there is an exemption for hot or cold weather conditions and a threshold time period specified, below which it would not be illegal to let your engine idle.

The combined effect of these two provisions on such similar legislation in Hong Kong might be to allow vehicles to be exempted altogether in the summer months and to allow more unscrupulous drivers to circumvent the legislation by the simple expedient of switching off the engine before the statutory time threshold is reached.

I have raised these difficulties simply to demonstrate that the legislative control of idling engines is rather more complex and contentious than your correspondent seems to appreciate.

Nevertheless, we have developed proposals for legislation to control idling engines and will publish them in the near future for public consultation. We believe that at the very least, such legislation will establish a benchmark for society as to what is the unacceptable use of an engine in a stationary vehicle.

M. J. STOKOE Deputy Director of Environmental Protection

Cap on fuel sulphur lowered to reduce emissions (SCMP 8th May 2010)

An amendment was introduced to the Air Pollution Control (Motor Vehicle Fuel) ordinance yesterday to tighten specifications of motor vehicle diesel and unleaded petrol to Euro V standards from Euro IV. The amendment tightened the cap on sulphur content in fuel to a fifth of previous levels, in a bid to reduce vehicular emission of sulphur dioxide by 80 per cent, other major gaseous emissions by 10 per cent and respirable suspended particulates by 5 per cent. Petrol stations, which have since 2007 offered Euro V diesel and Euro V petrol, sold half the petrol imported into Hong Kong last year.