Banning idling engines will make a difference
The government's decision to press ahead with legislation against idling engines is a welcome - although long overdue - step in the battle against air pollution.
Now officials must ensure that the law is introduced in good time and that it contains measures that will prove effective in curbing a practice which wastes energy and is increasingly seen as a form of antisocial behaviour.
Even before the recent public consultation it was clear there was strong public support for a statutory ban on motorists keeping engines running when their vehicles are stationary. Now that the results of the consultation confirm the public backing for the move, the Environmental Protection Department has all the support it needs to go ahead. Officials say the law should be enacted by next year at the latest. It certainly should not take longer than that.
Having taken such a long time to get to this stage, the focus must be on ensuring that the law is not watered down and rendered ineffective by exemptions intended to placate various interest groups - notably the transport sector.
Representatives of truck, taxi and minibus drivers have in the past argued against a ban and succeeded in stalling its introduction. The government went along, arguing that education was more effective than legislation. Now that public momentum is building towards introducing tougher measures, the trade groups are demanding that certain vehicles be exempted. Officials must not give in this time. The law must cover all types of vehicle, with the exception of emergency and special service vehicles such as those for the disabled and elderly. Furthermore, it must be adequately enforced.
It is hard to understand what is so difficult, and harmful to business, about turning a key to cut off an engine. Drivers will save on fuel, and the whole community will benefit from less pollution.
Specious reasons have been advanced, such as discomfort for passengers without constant air-conditioning and the ruinous effects on engines being turned on and off frequently. Drivers should not presume to speak for their passengers, most of whom would support the new law, if the government survey is anything to go by. Indeed, some of the trades' more reasonable concerns have already been dealt with. For example, the first two taxis or minibuses in a queue will, it seems, be allowed to keep their engines running.
Vehicles are the second-largest source of air pollution in Hong Kong. Of all the measures being proposed to fight pollution, banning idling engines is the easiest and cheapest to achieve. It has the added benefit of being likely to change people's behaviour if properly enforced. It can help increase awareness of the need for individuals to play their part in conserving energy and reducing air pollution. With a large public mandate, the new law will make a statement that the city is serious about cleaning up the environment.
Air pollution remains a serious problem in Hong Kong. Roadside monitoring stations recorded very high levels for about 11 per cent of the time in the first quarter of this year, up from 6.48 per cent of the time during the same period last year. General stations also saw higher pollution levels, with readings in the high range 70.5 per cent of the time, up from 51.7 per cent a year earlier. Banning idling engines will help make a difference but it will not solve our city's air pollution problems. A wider range of measures is needed.