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New pollution traps to target ‘invisible’ fumes

South China Morning Post – 16 Nov. 2011

Petrol and LPG vehicles pumping out colourless emissions face being ordered off the road, while subsidised upgrades will be available for minibuses and taxis

Environment officials are setting a hi-tech trap for drivers whose vehicles pump out invisible fumes.

The new detection system will be aimed at 490,000 vehicles powered by petrol and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). These emit pollutants more difficult to spot than those from diesel-powered vehicles, which spew out black smoke.

Devices using infrared and ultraviolet beams will measure the concentrations of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

The machines will also photograph the vehicle and record its registration number and speed.

Vehicles that exceed the limits and whose owners fail to rectify the problem could be deregistered under the scheme, which will be rolled out in the next two years. Two sets of remote sensing devices will be installed 15 metres apart at each selected detection point. Two readings showing excess emissions will lead to enforcement action.

The officials have shortlisted about 100 roads and streets across the city suitable for installing the devices, which will be placed at five different spots every day on rotation. Highways and roads with multiple lanes will not be selected as the devices work best in single lane roads, such as connecting routes to busy corridors like Cotton Tree Drive and Lung Cheung Road.

Those identified will be asked to undergo detailed emission tests at designated centres for a fee, currently set at HK$310. If they fail the test and do not rectify the problem within 12 days, the vehicle’s registration might be revoked.

Environment officials hope the scheme will spur regular maintenance of vehicles, especially the 18,000 taxis and 3,000 LPG minibuses blamed for worsening nitrogen dioxide levels on roadsides.

Previous studies by the department found that 80 per cent of taxis and 45 per cent of minibuses are spewing excessive pollutants because of defective catalytic converters – devices that change toxic exhaust emissions into non-toxic substances. Some operators ignore the rule that the converters should be replaced every 100,000 kilometres, officials said.

These taxis and minibuses alone account for about 40 per cent of total nitrogen oxide emissions on busy roads.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director of the department, said the remote sensing technology was just one in a series of measures being taken to improve roadside air quality.

To help taxi and minibus operators cope with the new steps to enforce emissions limits, the government has earmarked HK$150 million to offer a one-off subsidy for them to replace the catalytic converters in their vehicles next year.

“The subsidy will help lift the awareness among these operators on the importance of proper maintenance,” said Mok.

The government has also pledged to help franchised bus operators fit pollution-reduction devices to older buses to cut nitrogen oxide emissions.

Ringo Lee Yiu-pui, a committee member of the Hong Kong Automobile Association, supported the remote sensing scheme but believed the penalty should be stiffer.

“It is just like drink-driving and speeding. Heavy punishment will definitely bring changes,” he said.

He said the scheme would help identify cars with excessive emissions on the city’s roads, whether they were new or old.

The measure could also force commercial vehicle operators to maintain their fleets regularly, instead of making a quick fix before the vehicle examination.

Lee also said the government should choose carefully the locations for the devices. “If it is a fixed location, drivers can simply avoid passing there or deliberately slow down their cars, just the same way as they deal with speed checks and laser guns.”

Vehicles travelling at less than 7km/h or more than 90km/h will be excluded from the checks.

Description: A remote sensing device is tested in Hammer Hill Road, Diamond Hill. The machines will be used to identify petrol and LPG vehicles pumping out excessive emissions.

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