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January 3rd, 2009:

HK Government Pushing To Ban Idling Car Engines To Tackle Pollution – 03 January 2009

HONG KONG: The Hong Kong government is pushing for a law to force drivers to turn off their engines when parked. But the bid to cut down on the city’s air pollution is being met with fierce opposition from the transportation industry.

It seems Hong Kong’s smog problem may be getting worse. 2008 data reported in the local newspapers showed that in the city’s most crowded areas, the number of hours air pollution exceeded dangerous levels jumped by 14 per cent, compared to a year ago.

Vehicles have been pinpointed as the second largest air polluter in the city.

Kitty Poon, Acting Secretary for the Environment, said: “The banning of idling vehicles with running engines has been discussed in the community for several years. The government has gained strong support from the public to move forward.”

However, the transportation trade is not in support of the ban. Drivers argue that when it comes to Hong Kong’s sweltering summers, constantly turning off air-conditioning will turn off passengers.

They also said that starting and stopping engines so many times a day would burn out their vehicles’ battery.

The government has now softened some of the rules for public transportation, including an exemption for the first five taxis parked at a taxi stand.

The government hopes the new law will be enacted this year. – CNA/vm

On Other Matters …

SCMP – Updated on Jan 03, 2009

I read a story on the Vectrix electric motorcycle in the Motoring column (“Brave new whirr”, May 24).

I note that the Hong Kong police used a number of these motorcycles to full effect during the Beijing Olympic torch relay (“Bike show gets a tour de force”, November 1).

My friends in the force have told me that all officers who used it rave about it in every way.

Your article mentioned the dealership and sole importer. I contacted them and they said they had them in stock but that the Transport Department had not licensed them yet because they had not completed their trials on the vehicles.

Well, the police are clearly happy with them and are still using them in their attractive green livery. Is it that the commissioner for transport thinks the Hong Kong public is incapable of operating an electric vehicle responsibly and will run out of juice suddenly in the outside lane of an expressway? Surely not.

Why, then, can I not pay the HK$90,000 and buy one, thus reducing my monthly fuel bill from HK$4,000 to HK$300? Oh, yes, and clean up the air a bit, too.

Could the relevant department please respond and get into top gear to save our air?

Siu Kwok-chu, Tai Po

Changes Displease Drivers, Greens

Paggie Leung – SCMP – Updated on Jan 03, 2009

Amendments to proposed rules on idling engines have failed to please either drivers or environmentalists, who regard them as either too strict or too lenient.

Taxi union leader To Sun-tong said the government had not considered drivers’ difficulties in complying with the ban. Extending the exemption from the first two to the first five taxis in a queue was no help, said Mr To, director of the taxi driver branch of the Motor Transport Workers’ General Union.

Big taxi stops near places such as the Kowloon Tong MTR station often had 30 to 40 cars lining up, he said. Exempting only the first five meant those farther back would need to switch their engines on and off at least 25 times as they moved up the queue.

Restarting an engine created 10 times as many pollutants as a continually running engine, “not to mention the damage to the vehicle”, Mr To said. He added that it was not practical to turn off the engines in hot weather.

Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group chairman Lai Ming-hung said drivers of green-topped minibuses were happy with the revised proposal. But he said all taxis and red-topped minibuses should be excluded from the ban on idling engines.

“The proposal will not be feasible for red minibuses because we do not have assigned stops,” Mr Lai said. “Also, we can just find another driver to sit in a vehicle to avoid being charged.”

Friends of the Earth director Edwin Lau Che-fung acknowledged the need to include some exemptions for practical reasons, but said the new exemptions for taxis and minibuses were too lax.

“The government should be stricter on static queues,” he said. “Apart from excluding the first two minibuses in a queue, only the first vehicle of each route should be exempted, and only if there are passengers on it.

“It can’t achieve the goal to reduce the emission of pollutants if there are too many exemptions.”

Echoing Mr Lau’s view, Green Power chief executive Man Chi-sum said he would accept the revised proposal if it meant quicker passage of the relevant legislation.

The revised proposal “is already the bottom line and no more exemptions should be included”, Dr Man said.

Only Way To Ban Idling?

Giving in to drivers may be only way to ban idling

Updated on Jan 03, 2009 – SCMP

The good news is that the government will finally press ahead with introducing a ban on idling engines. The bad news is that the draft ban will be significantly watered down by the time it is presented to lawmakers later this month. Under pressure from the public-transport trade, the government has devised complicated rules that will exempt more taxis and minibuses queuing to pick up customers. The rules are likely to make the law more difficult to enforce when it comes into effect.

A ban is long overdue. Leaving a vehicle engine idling not only causes pollution, but is also an annoying form of antisocial behaviour. A consultation last year showed the public overwhelmingly supports such a ban. But taxi and minibus drivers have vehemently opposed it, citing several reasons, some of them arguable, others spurious. Still, the government has promised to have legislation in place this year. Given the general public’s wish to see a ban introduced without delay, the latest compromises with the trade may be the only expeditious way forward.

The government had originally proposed that only the first two taxis in a queue be allowed to keep their engines running. Under the revised proposal, the first five would be allowed to do so. And if the queue is moving, every waiting taxi would be able to keep its engine on. Unless they are in long queues which move little – like those at the airport – most drivers waiting in line in urban areas would be able to claim they are in a moving queue. Similarly contrived rules will apply to minibuses. For example, green-top minibuses often wait in one queue but serve different destinations. The new rule would allow the first and second minibuses travelling on the same route to keep their engines on, regardless of their places in the queue.

Without going into all the details, it is easy to see that police officers and traffic wardens would face a tough time handing out tickets. Traffic conditions are fluid, especially in a city like Hong Kong; vehicles in queues are constantly moving. Often, minibuses switch places while waiting at stops. Some stops are busier than others; and conditions can vary greatly at the same stop during different times of day.

The trade probably wants these rules in place because they will make enforcing the new law difficult. If so, it is to be regretted that professional drivers cannot be more public-spirited. Understandably, they face declining business in the current downturn. But the ban will not affect their livelihood. At most, it will cause inconvenience, such as not being able to cool themselves with air conditioning.

It is now clear the city will not have the toughest ban many people were hoping for. However, breaches of the new law would carry a substantial fine of HK$320, so it does not lack teeth. It should still serve as a serious deterrent and have an educational effect on drivers and pedestrians alike. Even if police officers may be hamstrung, they can cite the law and warn drivers – professional and private – to operate their vehicles more responsibly.

Despite the new steps taken to placate the trade, some representatives of the taxi trade still oppose the revised proposal. It is unlikely anything can be done to satisfy these people short of dropping the legislation altogether. Let us hope officials will stand firm from this point on and move ahead to impose the ban. The discomfort drivers will suffer from not having air conditioning will be small relative to the serious impact on pedestrians’ health from their vehicles’ roadside emissions.

Hong Kong Air Pollution Worst Since Records Began

Hong Kong – January 3, 2009 – 8:06PM – The Age

Air pollution across large swathes of Hong Kong last year reached its highest level since records began, despite government efforts to improve the environment, official figures showed yesterday.

Hong Kong suffers high air pollution, caused partly by huge numbers of factories over the border in southern China, and there have been fears the problem could compromise its position as an international finance centre.

The number of hours for which street-level pollution exceeded the danger level in some of the city’s busiest districts rose by 14 per cent in 2008, according to Environmental Protection Department figures.

The department said air pollution levels in the three main shopping and business districts were dangerous for more than 2,000 hours last year — the highest figure since it began taking roadside recordings in 2000.

An Air Pollution Index (API) of more than 100 is considered dangerous, indicating immediate health risks, especially to people with respiratory or heart problems.

The latest figures are for Central, Hong Kong’s main business district, and the Causeway Bay and Mongkok shopping areas.

They were released as Hong Kong’s acting environment secretary proposed a ban on running engines of parked vehicles, the latest in a series of measures to improve the city’s air quality.

The city’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang has called improving air quality a “matter of life and death” for Hong Kong, and said he expects the full backing of Chinese authorities.

A report released last year by the Hong Kong-based think tank Civic Exchange said that at least 10,000 deaths every year in Hong Kong, Macau and southern China are caused by the area’s worsening air pollution.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department cautioned that the figures did not give a full picture of air quality because they reflected only the level of the pollutant that posed the greatest health risk.

However, Edwin Lau, director of pressure group Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, said this meant the true picture could be even worse than the figures indicated.

“You can look at the data from another perspective and say the problem could be even more worrying if the levels of the other pollutants were also taken into account,” he told AFP.

Lau said the government needed more effective policies to improve roadside air quality, such as banning heavy diesel vehicles from driving in busy districts during peak hours.

Air Is Cleaner, Government Claims

Despite high pollution readings, air is cleaner, government claims

Daniel Sin – SCMP – Jan 03, 2009

Concentration of Pollutants

The Environmental Protection Department has insisted Hong Kong’s air quality has improved over the past decade, despite its air pollution index showing big rises in the number of hours pollution hit dangerous levels.

A departmental spokeswoman said concentrations of individual pollutants were a better means than the API to assess the long-term air quality trend and had been decreasing over the past 10 years. These air pollutants include respirable suspended particles (RSP), nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulfur dioxide and ozone.

The department was responding to a South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) report that showed the number of hours in which street-level pollution exceeded dangerous levels at three crowded areas had increased over the past year, in some cases to record levels.

The department’s data shows the average level of roadside RSP last year was 72 micrograms per cubic metre, down 13.3 per cent from 2004. In the same period, the concentration of nitrogen oxides fell 2 per cent, while that of sulfur dioxide was constant.

Statistics from general stations suggested that the concentrations of individual pollutants they recorded had dropped by an average of 1.7 per cent to 5.3 per cent each year between 2004 and last year.

The department attributed the improvement to the success of control measures taken by Guangdong province in recent years.

To improve regional air quality, the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments agreed in 2002 to reduce the emissions of four major air pollutants by 20 to 55 per cent from their 1997 levels by 2010. To achieve this, they drew up a regional air quality management plan focusing on key sources of emissions, the spokeswoman said.

But Simon Ng Ka-wing of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology questions this.

“The levels of RSPs and NOX concentration recorded last year still exceeded the respective one-year air quality objectives, and have in fact breached our lenient air quality objective every year over the last 10 years,” he said. “They are much higher than the safety margins recommended by the World Health Organisation, which is 20 micrograms per cubic metre for RSP and 40 for NOX.”

Last year, the average concentration of NOX at roadside stations was 99 micrograms per cubic metre.

“Roadside air quality is still posing a serious health threat to Hongkongers,” said Dr Ng.

Mike Kilburn, of think-tank Civic Exchange, said the government should adopt the WHO’s air quality guidelines.