Policy promoting cycling would be a big step towards better public health

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 December, 2011, 12:00am


From a public-health perspective, Hong Kong is facing a challenge from non-communicable diseases.

The leading causes of preventable death here are cancers, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular diseases and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Non-communicable diseases have risen at a rapid rate in Hong Kong because of environmental and individual factors such as exposure to polluted air, obesity, poor diet and a decrease in physical activity.

This is why the Star Ferry's proposed HK$20 charge for cyclists on the Wan Chai-Tsim Sha Tsui route is so disturbing from a public-health angle. Cycling promotes physical activity. It is an alternative mode of transport that encourages a healthier environment. How is it that Hong Kong has not done better to create public policy that supports cycling programmes?

In cities that are more conscious of public health, bike riding is encouraged and subsidised.

Barclays Cycle Hire in London, supported by Transport for London, provides public bikes at pay-and-go docking stations throughout the city for commuters. In Paris, white-grey bikes line certain neighbourhoods as part of the V?lib' bike share programme advocated by a government official. In Hangzhou , there is now a system of orange bikes supported by the city's public transit office. Cyclists can buy a variety of transport cards that are affordable and cover swipe-and-go bicycles.

Hong Kong must get with the times. Improving public health in cities requires an active, co-ordinated health policy. Efforts against the Star Ferry's bike fees should not be left to the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance. It is part of a bigger picture of health promotion that involves and requires policy support by the Department of Health, public-health professionals and individuals who want to see a healthy Hong Kong.

The Star Ferry bike fee is a move in the wrong direction. The company may see gains over a short period of time, but a larger question to be posed is: what is being done in the public sector to support health promotion via private and public entities?

Passive and unco-ordinated policies in different silos do little to help public health.

If the government does not step in, if it does not co-ordinate, what are the public health ramifications for Hongkongers? Passive policy - but at what cost?

Dr Hildy Fong, school of public health and primary care, Chinese University