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Idling ban fails to deliver for drivers

Winnie Chong

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

“Sir, your engine is running. I’m clocking you.”

With such a courteous reminder from traffic wardens, it is not surprising that no one has been prosecuted under the idling engine ban since it came into effect on December 15.

A drivers’ concern group has characterized as a “toothless tiger” both the ordinance and efforts to enforce it.

Not so, said the Environmental Protection Department, pointing out that there have been 180 warnings even though nobody has been slapped with a fixed penalty ticket of HK$320.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director for air policy, said officers have stepped up enforcement action but it is sometimes hard to tell whether or not an engine is running.

But he insists the prohibition is effective since drivers turn off their engines once they spot the approach of a police officer.

Ng Chi-wai, the owner of Chi Wai TV Engine at Shau Kei Wan, said he has not seen a noticeable change in drivers’ behavior.

“Some even stay in their vehicles so they can enjoy the air-conditioning during meal breaks,” he said.

Regina Ng Wai-yi, who drives a seven-seater vehicle, said the ban would improve air quality but is difficult to enforce.

“You cannot turn off the engine on a hot day while waiting, especially if there are children in the car.”

She said it is also hard to enforce the ban in busy districts like Causeway Bay, Central and Wan Chai, where the air is heavily polluted. She urged the government to extend the idling time from three to 10 minutes.

Van driver Bao Chi-kin said the idling engine law is ridiculous.

“The driver of a goods vehicle has to stay behind the steering wheel while his colleagues are loading or unloading. How can we stand it if there is no air-conditioning?”

Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group chairman Lai Ming-hung, who called the law a ” toothless tiger,” said the three-minute rule leaves plenty of room for disputes between the drivers and the authorities.

But he believes the ban can stop drivers from sleeping in their vehicles.

Under the law, taxis at stands and the first two minibuses at terminals are exempt. All drivers are exempt during very hot weather or rainstorm warnings.

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