Now is not the time to seek a fuel-tax cut

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2008, 12:00am

Oil prices are relentlessly rising and we are all feeling the pinch. Some of us are affected more than others, particularly those involved in the transport and freight industries. For such people we have to feel a measure of sympathy, but there cannot be any for those truck drivers who brought traffic in Central to a standstill yesterday over their call for the government to scrap the tax on diesel.

Deliberately blocking roads in one of the busiest parts of Hong Kong is unlawful. But this is not to say that the issue at the heart of the demonstration is also invalid. As Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah indicated, it is complicated and needs consideration.

The drivers of trucks, delivery vehicles, buses and taxis have endured a considerable challenge to their livelihoods from rising oil and fuel prices. With the per-barrel price passing the psychologically important US$100 barrier in February and rising by more than 30 per cent since, those closest to the increases are rightly worried. As concerned as they may be, though, lobbying the government to reduce the tax on fuel is not the way forward.

It is ironic that some commercial drivers took to the streets to deliberately cause inconvenience to others over a measure that was put in place by authorities to make people think twice about driving on our narrow roads. At a time of concern about the effect of vehicle emissions on air pollution and global warming, there was never a less appropriate time to talk about cutting the fuel tax.

Oil prices are rising as a result of forces beyond our control. All we can do is use fuel more efficiently and look for alternatives. Public transport is the obvious answer for commuters until even better technologies are developed; using vehicles that get more kilometres to the litre and which are driven more slowly and smoothly is also an effective response. The decision by airlines to add a few minutes to flying times is in the right spirit and is to be applauded.

The government will have to make it easier for operators to pass on increasing fuel costs to consumers. But nothing is to be gained by being angry about the high price of oil. Realistic thinking is the solution. It can be found in changing our ways.