Wealth Blog

Effects of the idling ban

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 5:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 5:58pm

It's interesting to assess the impact of the recently-introduced car and truck idling ban. Has the thought of a fine really put a stop to those lines of swanky customised people carriers down IceHouse Street in Central and the logjam of limos outside Fook Lam Moon in Wan Chai at lunchtime? It has not. It was naive to think that Hong Kong's tai-tais would forgo the luxury of stepping out of Cartier and into an air conditioned car after a hot morning shopping. Perish the thought. Any tycoon will tell you it's hard enough keeping good drivers, without having to complicate matters by telling them where they can and can't hover and when to on and off the air-con.

Personal drivers to Hong Kong's wealthy often change jobs every few weeks. It's a stressful business, not only do you have to balance Sir's trips to Shenzhen with Madam's shopping jaunts and the kids' school runs and social schedule, you now can't even enjoy the air on during the long hours of waiting. It's a thankless job, involving being in the right place at the right time and all for only $400-600 a day, part-time, or $12,000 to 14,000 a month. For that you work long long hours, hang around for ages waiting for your boss and have responsibility for a vehicle worth a fortune.

And now the idling ban comes in. Many of HongKong's wealthy have taken measures to tackle this new impediment to driving and waiting where and when they like. We have previously mentioned the folks who have two cars circling central, to make sure no one has to wait too long for a single chauffeur who might be caught in a jam caused by ... all the other drivers also cruising around. I hear several other tycoons have taken the precaution of getting an extra car or two, to have more accessible vehicles on the road in case one is stuck in worsening traffic. More cars, more traffic, more congestion, but they don't think of that.

So now drivers are using their wiles to find new back lanes to wait in, where police and parking attendants rarely go. They have taken to circling the Mandarin Oriental block repeatedly, especially at busy times. They drive slowly through the hotel's drop off and pick up point, lurking at the entrance, causing congestion and blocking the way for taxis. When forced to move on, they circle and lop back five minutes later. This is just one example of how it's playing out. If this was the intention of the idling ban, it's added to Hong Kong's traffic woes, not lessened them.