Let private vehicles use LPG, motorists urge

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 12:00am

The government says HK is not set up for wider distribution, insisting unleaded petrol is just as clean

Private vehicles should be allowed to change to LPG, according to motorists and environmentalists who say the government needs to adopt a more open-minded approach to cleaning up vehicle pollution.

But rather than encourage motorists to change to the cleaner, greener fuel, the government has made such conversions illegal, using, ironically, the Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

The Sunday Morning Post has been contacted by a number of individuals concerned that they are not allowed to make the switch. And environmental group Clear the Air says that even while it is urging taxi and minibus operators to move from diesel to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), the government is not doing the same with its vehicles.

'No government vehicles are equipped with LPG,' said chairman Christian Masset.

'The fact it is not even equipping its own fleet shows up their commitment to this.

'It is clear the government is not being consistent in its approach,' he said.

But the Environmental Protection Department maintains its approach is consistent and that unleaded fuel, which the air pollution ordinance requires all non-diesel vehicles except minibuses and taxis to run on, is as clean as LPG.

Principal environment protection officer Mok Wai-chuen said the pollution priority had to be getting diesel vehicles, which emit more harmful particulates and gases, off the roads.

'If people want to use LPG from an environmental point of view, they should just stick to unleaded petrol because it is as clean as LPG,' he said.

'If they convert their car - since it is illegal, they will have to do it themselves - they will be in trouble with the [Electrical and Mechanical Services Department] and the Transport Department.'

A private car run on LPG cannot be registered and the Road Traffic Ordinance provides stiff penalties for driving an unregistered vehicle.

One motorist who had considered a conversion was shocked to find out it was illegal.

'Anywhere else in the world you're allowed to do it,' he said.

'It just seems crazy when you look around [at the vehicle pollution] that you can't do something about it.'

Mr Mok suggested there might be a financial motivation behind motorists' desire to change over. Unleaded petrol sells for about $12.60 per litre, whereas LPG, which does not attract government excise, retails for around $2.60.

Given the narrow tax base in Hong Kong, it is doubtful the government would want to give up this income stream.

Opening LPG to all car owners would create a stampede, Mr Mok said, and at this stage the infrastructure does not exist to deliver LPG to every vehicle. There are 350,000 private vehicles in Hong Kong compared to 24,000 taxis and light buses.

'Because of the extra safety requirements for LPG filling stations, it would not be possible to construct a large number of them in Hong Kong,' Mr Mok said.

'Stations need buffer zones between them and the population. Obviously because of the cost difference if we allowed conversions to happen almost every car owner here would do it.'

However, experience in other countries, where LPG conversions have been allowed for years, suggests this chaotic scenario is unlikely.

In Australia, where the rate of pick-up of LPG is among the highest in the world, just 5 per cent of its 12 million vehicles on the road use LPG. That figure is despite the fuel being excise free, as it is in Hong Kong.

Mr Masset argued the government should at least look at the possibility of expanding the conversion programme.

'Every way to reduce air pollution should be considered as a principle.'