Bus firms seek change to idling engine ban

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2010, 12:00am

Franchised bus operators have added fuel to the debate over the idling engine ban by asking that the proposed three-minute grace period be extended to 10 minutes at terminuses to ensure passenger comfort.

At least three of the four local franchised bus operators - Citybus, New World First Bus and New Lantao Bus - will lobby for the extension as lawmakers scrutinise the legislative proposal first put forward in 1999.

It is not yet known whether pressure from the largest transport operators in the city will drive further demands from other operators for more exemptions and changes to the bill.

In a submission to the committee on the bill, Citybus and New World First Bus said three minutes was not long enough to cool down switched-off buses, where the inside air temperature could reach up to 50 degrees Celsius at an uncovered terminus. It takes 10 minutes after starting the air conditioning to bring down the temperature by 11 degrees, they said.

The operators' representatives will appear today at the committee hearing, where about 70 people have signed up to make their views heard, setting the scene for a showdown over how legislators should shape the Motor Vehicle Idling (Fixed Penalty) Ordinance.

That number is the second highest yet for a committee hearing on a bill. Last year, the domestic violence bill drew 89 members of the community to express their views before the lawmakers.

Apart from clean-air advocacy groups, students from international schools and members of foreign business chambers will express their concerns, and a newspaper vendor coalition will tell the lawmakers about their plight working at the heavily polluted roadside.

Most of the attending parties will be taxi operators' groups, drivers' unions and truck operators.

The bill makes it an offence to leave your engine idling for longer than three minutes, and violators will be fined HK$320. The first five taxis at taxi stands and those in the queue moving into the stand, as well as the first and second red and green minibuses at a terminus are exempted.

Peter Mok Wah-fun, a director of New Lantao Bus, said most bus operators supported the need to extend the grace period.

'While a healthy passenger might be all right at 40 degrees inside a bus, this might not be the case for the elderly or sick,' Mok said.

But he said the amount of time needed to cool the internal air depended on the bus type, the strength of its air conditioning, and the length of time it was exposed to the sun. Similar arguments have been put forward by taxi driver groups which are asking for an exemption for the whole trade. A spokesman for Kowloon Motor Bus, the largest operator, refused yesterday to disclose whether it would also ask for the extension.

Designing Hong Kong, one of the groups attending the hearing today, said even the three-minute rule was 'entirely unnecessary and undesirable', because it would make enforcement practically impossible.

The Hong Kong Paediatrics Society supports the bill and has warned of premature deaths linked to excessive roadside pollution.

Last year, there were 323 complaints about idling engines. As of April, the figure this year is 76.