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Idling law choking on its own inaction

South China Morning – 26 July 2011

First, it takes 14 years of tussle to enact a law regulating vehicles parked with engines running. But instead of being an effective tool in combating roadside air pollution, it has been heavily watered down with a package of exemptions to appease the transport industry. The latest bad news is that enforcement will be delayed until December, with an initial one-month grace period. One cannot help wonder how determined the government is to protect public health.

The reason for the delay appears to be nothing more than a lame excuse. Despite a clear undertaking to enforce the ban in early September, officials told a Legco panel that the understanding had always been that the law would not commence during the hottest days of the year. That lawmakers feel betrayed is understandable. Officials were either misreading the temperature records in autumn, or they were never sincere in setting the promised deadline when lobbying for support from lawmakers to pass the bill in March. Sadly, the comfort of those sitting inside an air-conditioned vehicles is clearly more important than the risks for those choking on exhaust fumes outside.

Regulations specifying arrangements for the HK$320 infringement penalty will not be ready for gazetting until next month. By the time the ban comes into force in December, as freshly promised, it will be 10 months since the ordinance was passed. Of more concern is the lack of enforcement manpower. The 260 wardens currently policing other traffic-related offences will also be required to enforce the ban. The plan to train up just another 18 officers to cope with the new law does not do justice to a law which potentially affects hundreds of thousands of vehicles. This raises doubts about how effective the law will be.

Vehicles remain the second largest source of air pollution after power plants. But the 20 exemptions granted to drivers under different conditions have already defeated much of the purpose of the new law. Instead of dragging its feet, officials should enforce the law expeditiously for the sake of public health and the environment

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