Exemptions from ban on idling 'unlikely'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2008, 12:00am

No leeway for taxis, minibuses

Public vehicles should not expect much leeway on a proposed ban on idling engines because pedestrians will not want to breathe in vehicle exhaust while drivers enjoy air conditioning inside the car, a government source said.

Taxi and minibus drivers have demanded exemptions from the rule for all public vehicles waiting at stands and during summer, when temperatures inside vehicles can rise to an intolerable 40 degrees Celsius three to four minutes after the engine is switched off.

But a senior Environmental Protection Department officer said such exemptions were not likely.

'It goes against the law's principle,' the officer said. 'It doesn't make sense that one should enjoy air conditioning inside the vehicles while the pedestrians outside have to breathe in their exhaust.'

Department officers have visited Tokyo and Canada to observe bans on engine idling and found that neither allowed exemptions for queuing taxis.

'In Canada, the taxi queue could also be very long - more than 20 cars,' the officer said. 'It was a hot, bright, sunny day, and the drivers all switched off their engines and waited outside for passengers.'

While a static queue is expected to abide by the new law, a moving queue will be exempt. But the source said the government did not intend to impose a time limit on the maximum duration of a pause before a queue qualified as a moving one.

'This would be left at the police's discretion,' the officer said. 'It's like illegal parking.'

Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah told a radio programme yesterday that the government would soon begin the second round of consultation with industry stakeholders, after analysing the first round, which ended on March 31.

Mr Yau said he understood the policy might inconvenience drivers and would seek to find out how best to implement the new rule to fit in with their needs.

Seventy-seven per cent of the 1,349 respondents to a government survey backed a ban on idling engines, with 56 per cent saying the ban should be effective throughout the year and only a quarter saying it should be waived during the summer.

Associations of taxi drivers and owners warned the government of vigorous protests if the proposed bill - expected to be gazetted in the coming year - is implemented without adjustment.

'Drivers will then pick up passengers anywhere but the taxi stand - the queuing order long set up within the industry will be shattered,' said Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee chairman Kwok Chi-piu.

Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association chairman Brandon Tong Yeuk-fung agreed, predicting chaos and disputes upon enforcement of the rule, which carries a fixed fine of HK$320.

Recipe for disputes
Representatives of
the taxi and minibus sectors predict chaos
and frequent disputes
if a ban on idling
engines is enforced

The fine for drivers ignoring the ban on idling engines, in HK dollars, will be
{+$}320