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Call to subsidise firms to buy green buses

SCMP, Ng Kang-chung
Nov 28, 2009

Bus companies should be subsidised to buy vehicles that are better for the environment, according to a research paper released yesterday by private think tank Civic Exchange.

The 26-page paper, “Paying for a Cleaner Bus Fleet”, also calls for environmental performance to be introduced as one of the criteria when the government assesses whether to award a franchise to a bus operator.

Hong Kong is one of the few big cities in the world where there is no publicly owned bus service.

Five private firms operate 5,768 buses on 700 routes. As they aim to maximise profits, the paper says, “the easiest and most effective way is to prolong the life of their existing vehicles, even if these vehicles are harming public health”.

The paper cites Singapore as an example and says that 860 of the 4,353 public buses there are fitted with engine classes of Euro IV or above. Some 2,100 Euro I buses are expected to be replaced by 2011.

But in Hong Kong, 53 buses, or 0.92 per cent of the fleet, are Euro IV. And 456 pre-Euro buses will not be retired until 2012, while 1,338 Euro I buses will only be replaced in 2015.

Civic Exchange chief executive Christine Loh Kung-wai said: “The latest standard is Euro V, while other cities are already using hybrids, electric trolleybuses, and even compressed natural gas and hydrogen.

“If Hong Kong does not get its policy right, it will be a very long time before we can catch up with bus fleet renewal in comparable cities.”

The franchises of the bus firms expire between 2013 and 2017. The paper says: “Rather than extending the franchises, the government may explore ways to finance the acquisition of new buses that are less polluting and in line with other comparable countries like Singapore.”

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