Minister accepts challenge

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2010, 12:00am

The environment minister has accepted a challenge by taxi groups to experience in person the impact of a ban on idling engines in hot weather, as taxi drivers and operators seek further exemptions to a proposed law.

But Edward Yau Tang-wah has also invited lawmakers now scrutinising the bill to expand the scope of planned visits to cover places and trades that might benefit from the ban.

At a Legislative Council panel meeting to hear views on the proposed ban, taxi operators yesterday likened environmentalists to militarists and Annelise Connell, spokeswoman for Mini Spotters, described proposed exemptions to the ban on idling engines as 'triad protection'.

The challenge for Yau was jointly raised by taxi groups which originally wanted him to visit a Kowloon Tong taxi stand in the summer months to see whether the proposed exemptions - confined to the first five taxis and any taxi in a moving queue in the stand - were enough to address drivers' concerns.

Taxi drivers say the proposed law is inhumane and threatens the health of drivers. Tests by taxi groups last year found that without air conditioning, the temperature inside cabs could reach up to 40 degrees Celsius while they were moving from the back of a queue to get to the front of it at a taxi stand in Kowloon Tong when the outside temperature was 32 degrees.

'Why are our voices about life and death never heard? Will environment officials be responsible for any deaths caused by the ban,' said Yum Tai-ping, chairman of the Kowloon Taxi Owners Association.

Yum was among more than 20 taxi operators and drivers groups challenging Yau at the committee meeting over the proposed ban. Supporters of the ban at the meeting included clean air advocacy groups, international school students and a businessman who expressed concerns over roadside pollution.

A total of 63 people presented their views to the committee and there were also seven written submissions.

Taxi operators, in likening environmentalists to militarists, questioned if they had been funded by the rail operators. Connell called the proposed exemptions 'triad protection' and demanded the removal of all exemptions.

While most supporters of the ban on idling engines are urging officials not to make any further concessions, taxi groups want to be exempted when they are queuing at taxi stands.

Yau said exemptions based on temperatures or rain had not yet been ruled out but any such exemptions had be thoroughly studied as to whether they would defeat the purpose of having a law to outlaw idling engines.