Hongkongers happy to pay for cleaner air

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2007, 12:00am

Higher fares, road pricing supported

More than three-quarters of people in Hong Kong are prepared to pay higher transport fees for cleaner air, and over 40 per cent support the controversial electronic road pricing, according to the results of the city's biggest ever consultation exercise.

The study, commissioned by the semi-official Council for Sustainable Development, also found that 95 per cent of people want the government to respond to high air pollution days, including taking mandatory measures such as suspending outdoor activities. Most also prefer a colour-coded alert system.

The study, also the city's first consultation on clean air, was conducted by the University of Hong Kong this summer. The findings were based on more than 81,000 completed questionnaires. It will be released today at the Air Summit, where Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, top business and social leaders will discuss ways to clean the air.

A council source said the survey results would put the government under pressure to introduce road pricing and other tougher policies.

'Officials have stressed before that we need a consensus among the public and the Central-Wan Chai bypass before having road pricing. Now the bypass could be built soon and the voice from the crowd is very clear,' the source said. 'Clearly people want the government to do more against air pollution.'

The authorities have studied the feasibility of road pricing in Hong Kong since 1980s. But the Transport Department put off pursuing it in 2001 on environmental and transport grounds following the completion of a four-year study.

Those who agreed with road pricing said it should be based on the polluter-pays principle and the money collected should be used to encourage greener vehicles and alternative transport choices.

Of those who wanted a government response to high pollution days, more than 80 per cent said outdoor activities such as sports days should be cancelled when the air quality is bad.

Three-quarters of respondents said people should use public transport as much as possible on high pollution days, and nearly two-thirds said they should be required to do so.

Half the respondents said staff with medical needs should be allowed to work from home, and companies and individuals should reduce the use of electrical and diesel equipment.

Also, most people supported making more measures to clean the air mandatory. These include turning off air-conditioners and lights in empty offices, switching off advertising lights in the early morning, and switching to energy efficient light bulbs.

'Apparently people are willing to do something and pay a bit more to help clean the air,' the source said. 'This survey will be a very effective tool for the government to push for tougher actions, such as an idling engine ban, in future.'