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Ban on idling engines delayed

South China Morning Post – 21 July 2011

Legco panel accuses officials of a ‘breach of trust’ after department informs lawmakers of a three-month postponement in long-awaited legislation

A Legco panel has accused environmental officials of “cheating” by postponing for three months the law meant to ban idling engines.

Adding to lawmakers’ anger, a one-month grace period will be granted to offenders after the law takes effect on December 15 – three months after its intended implementation date and 10 months after the legislation was passed.

Carlson Chan Ka-shun, the deputy director of environmental protection, told Legco’s environment affairs panel that the ban had been delayed out of consideration for drivers in the hot weather, who tend to leave their engines running to power a vehicle’s air-conditioning system.

“My understanding all along is that everyone was hoping that the law would not take effect during the hottest days of the year,” Chan said. September was still part of the city’s hottest season.

He said the Environmental Protection Department also needed time to finalise technical details, such as the format of the penalty notice, and to include these in subsidiary legislation which Legco would be able to pass only after it resumes sittings in September.

Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, the panel’s deputy chairwoman, said she was dissatisfied with the delay, saying that “the government has always cheated. [The delay] has damaged our mutual trust”.

She said the legislation could instead have been introduced “in mid- or late October when it gets cooler.”

She criticised the government for failing to present the draft regulations yesterday, as it had promised to do when lobbying lawmakers to pass the law in March.

Democrat Kam Nai-wai said he doubted whether the ban could be executed in December, given that officials had shown little progress in arranging publicity and training staff.

Chan replied that 18 police officers and one environmental inspector had been assigned to prepare the work and that they would receive training in September.

The law, which has 20 exemptions, was passed in early March after 10 years of debate over the desirability of such a policy.

After negotiations with the transport industry had been completed, the result represented a much toned-down version of a proposal made by the government in 2007. The original ban offered no grace period, no exemption on bad-weather days, and excluded only the first two taxis and minibuses waiting at a rank.

Changes were introduced in 2009 to exempt more taxis and minibuses, and to cover buses with at least one passenger on board. A three-minute grace period was also introduced. The ban will be suspended on any day when the Observatory issues warnings for storms or very hot weather. The ban will apply to all roads in Hong Kong. Drivers caught parked with their engines running will be fined HK$320.

Thomas Choi Ka-man, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said he was disappointed. “The ban has been so much watered down and now it’s further delayed. I wonder how determined the government is in executing its policy.”

Choi said it would be more helpful to enforcement officers if the ban was launched in summer along with the one-month trial period, as hot days should be the time when most disputes arose over its implementation.

Man Chi-sum, of Green Power, said the delay was a political consideration to avoid strong reaction from the transport industry but was at the expense of pedestrians, street vendors and workers.

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