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Polluting Vehicles Must Be Driven Off The Road

Updated on Sep 27, 2008 – SCMP

We are accustomed to much talk about air pollution, but not enough action. The latest example is to be found in the Environmental Protection Department’s proposal to raise licence fees for owners of old, polluting commercial vehicles who do not switch to cleaner models. That sounds tough until you consider it is subject to discussion with the owners – and compare it with the compulsory phasing out of such vehicles in countries that adopt more stringent measures to improve air quality.

Roadside pollution is a major factor in poor air quality. The city’s commercial diesel fleet is a major culprit. To clean it up, the government offered owners the incentive of a grant towards replacement of pre-Euro-standard and Euro I light commercial vehicles with Euro IV models. This was a well-intentioned move. But owners have been slow to take up the offer. As a result nearly 50,000 of the older commercial vehicles remain on the roads.

The department has been overly generous in extending the deadline for claiming the grant for replacement of the dirtiest, pre-Euro polluters from next month to 2010 – the same as for Euro I and heavy vehicles. A higher licence fee for all old vehicles after that is a small price to impose for antisocial resistance to a proven air-quality initiative. Nonetheless, even this idea is bound to run into opposition from the transport trade and some lawmakers. The trade may have issues about the suitability of available Euro IV models. But these must be weighed against the public interest. This is a chance for the government to show a sense of urgency about pollution, something which is often lacking in efforts to improve our city’s air quality.

Studies for the semi-official Council for Sustainable Development show strong support among Hong Kong people for a range of initiatives. They include electronic road pricing to combat traffic congestion and roadside pollution, a colour-coded pollution warning system and a ban on leaving vehicle engines idling. Two years after the World Health Organisation issued new air-quality guidelines, we are still waiting for the government’s response. At least it is pressing ahead with a ban on idling engines. But until the legislation emerges intact from consultations with the transport trade, we must wait to see whether talk is translated into action.

For the sake of our health and quality of life, the time for talking is over. A tougher stance on older, polluting vehicles is needed.

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