Personal vehicle numbers are going, going, gone!
If Mr Qiu and Ms Qi are hoping to make this year special by getting a personalised car number plate, they will have to settle for a combination that doesn't feature their surnames.
That's because Transport Department regulations governing the personalised vehicle registration mark (PVRM) scheme are quite specific: 'I', 'O' and 'Q' are not allowed.
The scheme, which began with a first auction in September 2006, was introduced to make more choices available for vehicle owners. It has turned out to be a big hit. By the middle of this month, 8,280 PVRMs had been sold at auction, generating proceeds of more than HK$154 million that mainly go towards the government's initiatives to fight poverty.
Last year, notable money-spinners included '2318', which went for HK$1.7 million, and '1318', which fetched HK$650,000. Bidders also paid out HK$240,000 for 'BS', HK$550,000 for 'NG 1' and HK$145,000 for 'KK 888'.
At the other end of the scale, it took only the reserve auction price of HK$5,000 to secure 'MYPR1NCE, 'AC M1LAN', 'P1G P1G' and 'PLAT0'.
'So far, the approved marks cover a wide range of combinations, not merely lucky [numbers] or names,' says a Transport Department spokesman, adding that applicants should study the basic requirements closely before submitting a proposal.
The rules stipulate, for instance, the use of no more that eight letters or numerals, including blank spaces. Combinations can be in one or two rows, but there should only be one blank space in between letters and numbers, and no more than four identical characters placed side by side.
Special care is needed not to duplicate an existing PVRM or create a pattern with, say, two letters followed by four numbers that is too similar to the standard licence plates. The spokesman also pointed out the importance of avoiding any confusion with numbers already reserved for government vehicles and those of specific permit or licence holders.
Applications are accepted in January, May and September each year, with the Commissioner for Transport having the final say on acceptance or refusal for the next stage of the process. That involves payment of a HK$5,000 deposit and consideration by a vetting committee made up of people from various walks of life plus government officials.
Their task is to apply the agreed criteria to weed out applications that look unsuitable. Primarily, that means anything 'likely to be offensive to a reasonable person, or has a connotation offensive to good taste or decency'. The vetting committee will also refuse proposals that seem to refer to a triad title or nomenclature, or are confusing for the purpose of law enforcement or, as something of a catch-all, 'may cause danger to any user of the road'.
With approval granted, applications then go forward in batches for inclusion in one of the now-regular auctions - one per month last year - overseen by the Transport Department. Over the course of the four to eight months it usually takes to process applications, the department provides status updates and notification of the auction date.
While some PVRMs are the subject of active bidding, many of the last batch in December were uncontested.
'If there is no bidder, the mark will be allocated to the original applicant at a special fee of HK$5,000,' the spokesman says.