Breezy start to idling engine ban
Mild weather gave the long-awaited ban on idling engines a smoother start than many had expected yesterday as most drivers, not needing their air conditioning, switched off the ignition voluntarily.
But a handful were found to have broken the rule that they have to turn off their engines after three minutes at a standstill, saying they forgot or found it impractical to follow.
No tickets for the HK$320 fixed penalty were issued as traffic wardens and environment inspectors will just issue warnings for the first month of the ban. The enforcers gave out seven verbal warnings and received one complaint.
With a maximum temperature of about 22 degrees Celsius and humidity below 60 per cent it was barely a taste of what the ban will be like in the heat and humidity of summer.
In small streets around Flint Road and Oxford Road in Kowloon Tong, most drivers and parents waiting for children to finish school had their cars turned off.
'We usually have [the engine] off in this kind of weather,' said one driver named Lam. 'It's OK now in the winter, but the three-minute rule is a bit harsh and will be harder still in the summer.'
Lam said that if a boss asked the driver to wait for five minutes, it seemed unreasonable for the driver to turn everything off for those few minutes.
Also, cars heated up in the summer, and might take longer than three minutes to cool down.
'Many bosses do not like stepping into a hot and stuffy car,' he said
Across the harbour, outside the Fook Lam Moon Restaurant in Johnston Road, Wan Chai - known as the 'tycoon's canteen' - at least two drivers violated the ban while waiting for their bosses with engines on for about eight minutes.
'The idling engine rule is a bit vague to me ... since my boss says he is coming down how can I switch the engine off and on? This is also bad for the car,' said the driver of a seven-seater private car.
Under the ban, all drivers are given a total of three minutes exemption in a 60-minute period. Exemptions are also given to taxis in a queue, and the first two minibuses in their stands.
At Tung Choi Street and Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok - two idling hotspots - people working at shops along the streets finally got some peace and breathing space as dozens of minibuses lining the streets complied with the ban.
'It's a big improvement. But summers can be bad - I pity them! Three minutes is kind of harsh I think,' said Chan, a restaurant employee.
Wong Man-kin, who drives a red-top minibus, said he was doing fine but was a bit worried about summer. 'We usually turn it off in cool weather anyway to save fuel. Fuel is money too you know,' he said. 'But it'll be really tough in summer.'
In Johnston Road, three traffic wardens patrolled the street during the lunch hour but seemed more interested in illegal parking than idling engines. They asked drivers of private cars - including a Mercedes-Benz carrying tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung - that were illegally parked directly outside the Fook Lam Moon to leave.
'Will you be waiting long? Are you ready to go?' a woman warden asked one driver stopped with an idling engine. Her presence caused at least one car to keep circling nearby streets. A white seven-seater car was seen passing the restaurant eight times until the warden left shortly before 2.30pm. Lau's car, and two other vehicles including a Rolls-Royce, also returned to the restaurant after all wardens left. They waited about 10 minutes before the tycoon and his friends came out. But it could not be verified whether their cars were switched on because of the noisy surroundings and heavy security.
Along Hennessy Road at about 1pm, most cars had their engines switched off. A truck driver, however, was seen having lunch in his seat with the engine on and window closed near the Southorn Centre.
The number of vehicles on Hong Kong roads grew by this much between 2004 and 2009, according to the government