Car ownership growth clogging HK's roads

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2007, 12:00am

Surge in private vehicles worsening congestion

Hong Kong's roads are becoming more congested as private car ownership surges.

The total number of vehicles registered rose by 9,226 in the first nine months this year to 618,821 - up from 609,595 in the whole of last year.

This is the sharpest rise in vehicle registrations in the past five years.

Registrations of new private cars in the first nine months - 21,007 - accounted for almost 80 per cent of 27,205 new-vehicle registrations, a sharp jump of 13 per cent compared to the 18,547 private car registrations in the same period last year.

The number of vehicles registered has risen by 27,319 between 2003 and this year, during which time the total length of public roads has increased by only 60km.

Becky Loo Pui-ying, associate professor of geography at University of Hong Kong, said the rate of the increase was huge, especially for such a densely populated city.

Dr Loo said: 'If the vehicles are concentrated in the urban area, it will be a huge problem.'

She added this was already happening in Central and Wan Chai.

'Our study shows a trend towards the population in Hong Kong becoming more decentralised, yet employment opportunities are still concentrated in the central business district, causing the problem of excessive commuting,' Dr Loo said,

She said government tax concessions aimed at encouraging use of fuel-efficient vehicles had apparently just intensified the problem, as more big vehicles hit the roads.

Under the scheme launched on April 1, buyers of new cars which meet environmentally friendly criteria qualify for a 30 per cent reduction in first-registration tax.

The Sunday Morning Post last week revealed the scheme attracted 2,218 applications between April and September, 14 per cent of the 15,487 private car new registrations during the period.

Three-quarters of buyers bought seven-or-eight seater minivans with normal petrol engines.

Environmentalists and academics said the scheme subsidised purchases of luxury vehicles by the rich.

Leung Kong-yui, chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport's transport policy committee, said the increase in vehicle flow was to be expected because of the growing economy.

But several areas of the city had already reached the stage at which the government 'needs to do something'.

'Several trunk roads, such as Gloucester Road and Tuen Mun Highway, have almost reached full capacity with a volume/ capacity ratio of 0.85,' Mr Leung said.

The ratio is a conventional level-of-service measure for roads, comparing vehicle volumes with carrying capacity. A value of one means full capacity.

Motor Transport Workers General Union spokesman Au-yeung Ming said Wan Chai and Central were traffic-congestion black spots.

'It takes seven minutes to drive from Central to Causeway Bay at off-peak times but it now takes over 30 minutes during peak hour,' Mr Au-yeung said.

He said the government had tried hard to control increases in public transport but had turned a blind eye towards private cars.

'This is a huge loophole which increases vehicle volumes on the road,' Mr Au Yeung said.

Kwok Chi-biu, chairman of the Urban Taxi-Drivers Association joint committee, complained traffic congestion was much worse this year.

'During peak hours, traffic jams cause delays roughly 15 minutes longer between Western District and Wan Chai compared with last year.'

The number of congestion complaints received by the Transport Advisory Committee complaint unit increased to 136 in the second quarter from 108 in the first quarter.

A government spokesman said growth in vehicle numbers had been acceptable, with an average annual growth rate over the past 10 years of 1.5 per cent.