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Low-emission Zone Plan Closer As Pilot Study Nears end

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Nov 13, 2008

A pilot study on low-emission zones where polluting franchised buses are banned will finish next year, acting Secretary for the Environment Kitty Poon Kit told legislators yesterday.

Replying to Democrats lawmaker Kam Nai-wai’s queries on the scheme, Dr Poon said the government would wait until the study was completed to determine a timetable to implement it.

The pilot scheme will target buses first since they accounted for up to a third of traffic in busy areas such as Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Central and their emissions were relatively high, according to Dr Poon.

“We have to look at a basket of factors including how it might impact on the traffic flow as well as roadside air quality.”

Vehicle emission standards would also be studied, she said. All new vehicles must met Euro IV emission standards. Vehicles that do not meet the standard might be banned from the low-emission zones.

Dr Poon said there were similar schemes in London, Toyko, Shanghai and Berlin and they varied in terms of the implementation period, types of vehicles affected, and enforcement.

But the legislators were unconvinced and criticised the government for failing to seriously and urgently address air pollution.

Some said the government was delaying through lengthy study. Others were unhappy the government had refused to pursue a more direct solution like replacing older buses.

“The air pollution can’t be more serious but the government always says it is studying it,” Mr Kam said. “So why did the government not use the $3.2 billion diesel vehicle replacement grant to phase out dirty buses and set a deadline for such a switch? Otherwise, we won’t solve the problems in 20 years,” he added. He was referring to the one-off grant to encourage vehicle owners to replace their pre-Euro and Euro I diesel commercial vehicles.

Dr Poon said there were existing plans between the Transport Department and the bus companies to replace the older bus fleet.

She said replacing the fleet earlier might cost the bus companies more money. Whether public funds should be used and how, if at all, to restructure fares would also have to be considered.

According to Dr Poon, the bus companies were already deploying environmentally friendly buses in busy districts.

She said about 80 per cent of franchised buses in Causeway Bay and Admiralty were already Euro II models or higher.

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