Hong Kong's roads 'make vehicle subsidy scheme a non-starter'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 July, 2009, 12:00am

A HK$3.2 billion subsidy scheme to encourage owners of commercial vehicles to switch to models that meet cleaner Euro IV emission standards had failed because the vehicles were not suitable for Hong Kong's roads, legislators said yesterday.

They said the vehicles were unpopular because they were not designed to cope with hilly and congested conditions that involved frequent stopping, starting and gear-changing, and they broke down often.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee, lawmaker for the transport sector, told a meeting of the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel: 'Many [commercial] vehicles are due for replacement, but no operators can tolerate vehicles that could break down at any minute.'

Albert Chan Wai-yip of the League of Social Democrats said 50 minibuses had been replaced by Euro IV models, but he had heard that they were off the road with problems for an average of 50 days in the course of six months. He said the vehicles were designed mainly to run on highways and expressways in Europe and were not used in any East Asian countries.

Mrs Lau said the government should resolve the problem before introducing the newer Euro V version in September.

The environment minister, Edward Yau Tang-wah, said the government was looking into the issue with manufacturers and the trade.

The HK$3.2 billion subsidy scheme was introduced in 2007 to encourage owners to replace diesel vehicles made before the European standards were introduced in 1992 and those meeting the least stringent Euro I standards.

Cyd Ho Sau-lan, the Civic Act-up lawmaker, suggested fare increases could be avoided by the government absorbing the cost of replacing the public bus fleet with savings made by using cleaner vehicles.

But Mr Yau said the administration should not turn the bus fleet into a form of government investment.

The issue was raised as Mr Yau presented to legislators 19 measures to achieve new air-quality objectives as part of a two-year review to overhaul the 1987 objectives.

The government says the proposed measures, expected to cost society about HK$600 million a year, would bring benefits of HK$1.2 billion a year as a result of the improvement in public health and savings in energy costs. But consumers would have to accept higher power tariffs and bus fares.

Many lawmakers criticised the lack of an action plan and timetable to implement the various proposals. Mr Yau said different measures would have different starting points, and that the groundwork for some of the proposals had already started.