It's time to get dirty vehicles off our roads

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 March, 2010, 12:00am

Few things are more important than the community's health. Yet the government seems to be more concerned with business reaction than with our well-being when it comes to roadside air pollution. It's a problem that should be easy to tackle: it simply has to get off the streets the old commercial diesel buses and trucks that are mostly the reason for the poor readings. With yet another voluntary scheme having failed, it is time to get priorities right and get tough.

Environmental officials have resurrected a proposal rejected by lawmakers in 2008, increasing licence fees for diesel trucks and vans that are 15 years or older. Their decision follows the failure of a soon-to-end subsidy scheme aimed at retiring the worst-polluting vehicles. Owners of just 13,000 targeted vehicles took up the grant; another 38,500 remain on our roads. But as worthwhile as the revived approach may seem, it will also be of little value unless it puts citizens first. Vehicles that are 15 years or older emit as much as 20 times more pollutants than new ones. These emissions can cause a myriad of health problems, particularly for the young and elderly. But even people who consider themselves healthy can develop allergies, asthma, bronchitis and, over time, lung damage.

Putting people first is simple: the licence fees have to be set at a level that discourages owners from keeping old vehicles. Legislators previously declined to even consider such a move, determining that economic circumstances were not right. By listening to lobby groups instead of people suffering from the effects of pollution, they were doing our city a disservice. There are costs to this, of course, and owners quite rightly worry about the impact on them.

But if there is an investment that seems well worthwhile, it should be in the health and well-being of our citizens - one of Hong Kong's key assets. While there is no doubt that old vehicles are the main cause of roadside pollution, owners should be helped to get replacements. Subsidies and assistance with getting bank loans will be necessary. But there can't be any half-measures this time - dirty buses, trucks and vans must be eliminated.