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Limit private cars that are occupying too many Hong Kong roads


Edwin Lau Che-feng, Head of Community Engagement and Partnership, Friends of the Earth (HK)

19 November 2014

South China Morning Post


Edwin Lau says emissions from slow-moving traffic pose danger to health


The top challenge for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his 2015 policy address is to tackle Hong Kong's congested roads.


They have been occupied by all sorts of vehicles, but it is private cars that are as serious a problem as Occupy Central in slowing traffic to a crawl during rush hours and also at other times in certain districts. This is choking us with toxic fumes.


As a priority, the government must review which types of vehicles should have priority on our roads, especially at rush hours and in congested areas.


The Environmental Protection Department has indicated that slow vehicle movement, probably due to congestion, emits more airborne pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and tiny particles, called particulate matter (PM), that are harmful to public health. Professor Anthony Hedley of the University of Hong Kong, an environmental health expert, has warned that children are most at risk from damage to their lung development.


The department's figures show that a double-decker bus travelling at 8km/h emits on average 39.5g/km of NOx and 0.57g/km of PM10 - particle pollution less than 10 micrometres in diameter. But if the same bus travels at 40km/h, it emits only 16.7g/km of NOx and 0.2g/km of PM10. So a bus travelling slowly during rush hour would emit 136 per cent more NOx and 185 per cent more PM10.


Statistics from the Transport Department last year reveal that, on average, private cars accounted for 53.8 per cent of the vehicles using the three cross-harbour tunnels from Monday to Friday during the rush hour - 8am-9am and 6pm-7pm. But franchised buses accounted for only 5.3 per cent of vehicles, showing that private cars are the main culprit when it comes to slowing traffic along the city's main corridors.


The number of private cars on our roads has grown alarmingly. In March 2007, the number of registered private cars totalled 395,636. In March that figure was 524,155 - a rise of 32.5 per cent in seven years. The big increase is probably due to a government subsidy scheme, started in April 2007, to encourage people buying new private cars to choose those that are "environmentally friendly". The Environment Bureau, led by Wong Kam-sing, has launched several measures to improve roadside air quality through the use of advanced engine technologies. These include helping taxis, mini-buses and franchised buses to replace or retrofit appropriate catalytic converters. It committed more than HK$11 billion to start phasing out polluting commercial diesel vehicles early this year.


As well as technological and financial measures, we also need transport demand management action to control vehicle growth and ensure buses, trams and other low-emission mass transport vehicles are given priority road use. This will create smoother traffic flows that further cut vehicle emissions for better roadside air quality to safeguard public health.


Leung should look not only to the Environment Bureau for solutions; transport secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-leung should come up with transport management solutions that can effectively regulate traffic flow.


Low-emission zones, coupled with vehicle labelling, is another cost-effective measure that should be implemented soon. Petrol/electric hybrid cars, pure electric models and other low-emission commercial and private vehicles are all available locally.


As an individual, you can do your bit for the environment, too, by taking public transport.


Meanwhile, government officials can step outside their air-conditioned offices to lobby political parties and vested interests to buy in to transport management policies to reallocate rights to those who really need to occupy our roads.

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