Drivers put the heat on idling ban

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 July, 2010, 12:00am

The government is facing mounting pressure to exempt professional drivers from a proposed engine idling ban on very hot days - with not only lawmakers united in supporting the request, but major green groups also backing down on their 'no more exemptions' stance.

About 30 taxis and minibuses drove slowly from Sham Shui Po to the Environmental Protection Department's headquarters in Wan Chai yesterday in protest against a bill that would force drivers to turn off their vehicle engines if they idled for more than three minutes. They threatened to escalate their action if the government did not amend the bill.

Addressing the 30 or so drivers yesterday, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah would not say what kind of an exemption should be granted, but that he would study options. 'As to [whether there should be exemptions on] very hot days, if there are clear-cut criteria [for us to enforce the law], we are happy to bring it up for Legco's discussion,' Yau said.

The government has promised some exemptions for queuing taxis and minibuses but authorities and many green groups have been reluctant to add more in case they rendered the ban useless. However, both sectors softened their stances after an 81-year-old minibus driver died on Friday after waiting inside the cabin with the engine turned off.

Some lawmakers who had suggested the restriction should be lifted only for hot weather warnings, proposed it should be lifted when temperature inside the cabin reached 27 degrees Celsius.

'We promoted 25.5 degree Celsius as the optimal temperature inside an office, 27 degree Celsius is already higher than that,' Gary Chan Hak-kan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said.

Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who first proposed the hot weather exemption, said lifting the restriction according to temperature would create conflict because the temperature varied across districts and through the day.

Greenpeace backed down on the 'no more exemptions' stance, with labour laws providing outdoor workers with special treatment on very hot days, while Friends of the Earth reluctantly said it could further discuss the issue.

But Conservancy Association director Hung Wing-tat said the government should simply offer the industry a year-long grace period without making any more exemptions, and review the law a year later.

'Personally I don't see how very hot weather would affect commercial drivers,' Hung said.

'They were already given exemptions at the stands, why would they want to park on the roadside with the engine running for a long period without a passenger?'