Restoring Blue Skies:
Review of the Policy Agenda on Air Pollution
Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce

April 2008

(Full Paper)

Synopsis of ideas and recommendations

One: Global citizenship
Two: Cooperation with the Mainland
Three: Energy policy
Four: Demand-side Management
Five: Infrastructure and urban planning
Six: Sustainable transport

37.   As long ago as 1995, the Strategic Environmental Assessment Report of the Territorial Development Strategy Review already foresaw poor air quality in 2006. Hong Kong ˇ¦s development was simply not sustainable under the prevailing transport and energy policies.  Despite vigorous efforts over the past ten years such as introduction of unleaded petrol and catalytic converters, the conversion from diesel to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for taxis, and more recently incentives for low-emission vehicles, pollution concentrations in urban areas such as Causeway Bay, Central, Mongkok, Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, and Shamshuipo, where millions of people live, remain unacceptable.

38.   In 1997, in light of the worsening vehicle emissions, the Chamber issued a position paper titled ˇ§Air Quality in Hong Kong : Time for Further Action?ˇ¨  In the paper the Chamber called on the government to develop a comprehensive transport-environment policy covering financing of rail systems, innovative surface electrified transport, and alternative fuels for large vehicles.  The Chamberˇ¦s call is as relevant today as it was ten years ago.

39.     We believe the community has reached a consensus that our cityˇ¦s public transport should be served primarily by a railway-based system.  We have developed a world-class system of mass transit, which will be further expanded as announced in the recent Policy Address, but we believe it can and should go even further.  Despite the top quality of the rail network, its coverage is still skeletal compared to systems in other world cities.  To expand the rail network further, government should consider developing new railways to meet future demand.  The sustainability of the city depends on our taking a pre-emptive and pro-active approach in planning for our future transport needs. (24)

40.     At the street level, radical as it may sound, the Government should aim at zero-emission vehicles to supplant those powered by internal combustion engines.  This means not only free wheeling, but also tethered electric vehicles such as trams and trolley buses.  Ten years ago the Chamber advocated the introduction of electric trolley buses into the city center, and we called for the tramlines to be extended.  With advances in town planning and urban design, fresh opportunities now arise in the new waterfront in Central, Wanchai and Causeway Bay .  Sustainable transport should therefore be built into these plans, to enable the central business district to get a ˇ§breath of fresh airˇ¨ instead of more vehicle exhausts.  Furthermore, proven electric technology now exists for scooters, cars, shuttle buses and light vans which matches the performance, autonomy (the distance between stops for re-powering) and reliability of conventionally powered vehicles. As the technology is already available, Government can provide much-needed leadership in making this a reality. (25)

41.   Clean transport such as rail and electric trolley buses notwithstanding, vehicles on combustion engines will remain a reality for a long time to come.  Much progress has been made in controlling omissions and smoky vehicles, but the everyday experience remains that emission at street level is still a problem.  This is particularly so on the days of high air pollution where the Air Pollution Index (API) nears (or exceeds) 100, with the ambient pollution amplified by the roadside emissions.

42.     If cleaning up regional smog is a long-term effort, at the street level some improvements can be made through controlling idling engines.  The Chamber therefore supports legislation to require motorists to switch off the engines of their vehicles while waiting, as proposed in the consultation paper entitled ˇ§A Proposal to Ban Idling Vehicles with Running Enginesˇ¨.  Although such a law would only produce a very small effect in terms of reducing overall pollution, given the highly compact nature of our city and the deteriorating ambient air quality, such legislation does help make the city more liveable. (26)

43.   On the specific arrangements to implement the ban on idling engines, the Chamber has the following views.

  • The fine for non-complying motorists should be akin to that of illegal parking.

  • As the consultation paper suggests, the ban should be across the board except for disciplinary or emergency service vehicles. 

  • To provide flexibility for vehicles which need to keep their engines running for operational reasons, we would support one more exemption for licensed public vehicles above certain ambient temperature (e.g. 28 degrees Celcius, or when the Observatory issues a Very Hot Weather Warning) and within certain time limit (e.g. 5 minutes).

  • It is understandable that the ban on idling engines cannot be enforced completely, just as the legislation on illegal parking and wearing of seat belts, To make it more effective, there should be an explicit administrative commitment to strictly enforce the legislation when the API is above 100.

44.   In the broader picture, eco-driving is more than just turning engines off.  It should also be about managing emission control and more rational and efficient use of road space.

45.     On emission control at the street-level, installations such as catalytic converters for relevant vehicles would surely help, but we need more aggressive measures to promote energy efficient vehicles.  Regulation of fuel type would be useful (e.g. mandating ultra low sulphur diesel) but the government should also explore more options to regulate emissions directly ˇV this could make possible solutions provided by environmental technology companies, instead of relying too heavily on fuel control.  To strengthen enforcement, an option worth exploring would be to introduce an annual air quality certification for vehicles. (27)

46.     On efficient use of road space, there should be room for further improvements in reducing inefficient road use. 

  • For public transport, this means reducing redundant public bus routes, rationalizing bus stops and restricting the proliferation of private bus transport.  (28)

  • More efficient road use could also be achieved if the time for delivery vehicles to operate could be effectively regulated, e.g. limiting delivery time to off-peak hours in congested areas.  This may cause some inconvenience to businesses that require frequent and timely deliveries, and no doubt the impact on these businesses should be fully explored, but as an option it should be seriously pursued. (29)

47.     The road pricing concept put forth in the earlier public engagement exercise by the Council for Sustainable Development is also relevant.  The Chamber reiterates our support for electronic road pricing (ERP) as a means to reduce road traffic in congested areas, and hence alleviate roadside air pollution.  In implementing ERP, alternative routes and bypasses must be provided, and the traffic impact on the alternative routes must be acceptable.  To minimize the impact on commuters and business vehicles, exemptions should be provided for public transport, and ERP should be implemented flexibly to allow loading and unloading during designated non-peak hours.  Other market schemes consistent with ERP such as time-of-use tunnel pricing should also be considered to reduce traffic congestion. (30)

48.    Finally, as a major owner and user of vehicles, the government should lead by example.  A commitment to replace its own fleet by eco-friendly vehicles (e.g. hybrid vehicles) will be a welcome move.  (31)

Seven: Green procurement
Eight: Pollution tracking
Nine: Transparency and reporting
Ten: Building human capital for sustainability

The Way Forward

(Full Paper)