Pollution sensors offer some hope

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2011, 12:00am


Officials tend to drag their feet when it comes to measures intended to force people to change their behaviour to help ease pollution. There have been plenty of carrots offered, but few sticks wielded. Now, there is some good news. Starting from 2013, vehicles will be checked while on the road and those found to be exceeding permitted levels will face penalties. Technologically advanced remote sensing devices are to be installed at the roadside to check if vehicles using fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas and petrol are spewing excessive nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Those who are caught and fail to rectify the problem may be deregistered. This step, which will hopefully curb roadside pollution, is long overdue.

The detection scheme was first mooted in 2004. Following a two-year trial, the Environmental Protection Department was, on at least two occasions, on the verge of launching a public consultation. But it was withheld for reasons which are not clear. This time, officials seem to be determined to go ahead, subject to the outcome of a two-month consultation. The measure will come into force in 2013 at the earliest.

The government estimates 45 per cent of public light buses are releasing excessive pollutants. The ratio for taxis running on LPG is even higher, with four in five having such problems. This should not be tolerated. There is a need for an effective deterrent.

However, officials have not shown sufficient determination to bring in such measures when negotiating with the transport industry. The many exemptions included in the ordinance banning idling engines are a good example. The law has been watered down so much that it makes enforcement, due later this year, almost meaningless.

Drivers may well be opposed to the new measure. Some may even seek a legal challenge to the use of the remote sensing technology. The accuracy of using laser guns in detecting speeding vehicles has already been the subject of a dispute in the courts. Under the plan, two sets of equipment will be installed 15 metres apart at each site. Only two readings above permitted limits will trigger enforcement action. But instead of a fixed penalty, vehicles will undergo detailed tests at a designated centre. Only when the problem is not fixed within 12 days will the owner's registration be revoked. The approach is a measured one and may not be sufficient to deter polluting motorists.

A stick is needed, but carrots can also help. The HK$150 million fund announced in the policy address to help replace catalytic converters in taxis and minibuses will complement the scheme. The two programmes can help identify polluting vehicles while encouraging transport operators to properly maintain their fleet. With better promotion and resolute enforcement there will, hopefully, be cleaner air.