• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 12:25pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 2:50pm

Idle enforcers won't stop idling engines

We are shocked and outraged! There are, according to environment officials, 92 black spots for idling engines across the city. What that really means is that drivers simply idle everywhere, paying no attention to the idling ban and its HK$320 fine. Well, we all know that, because traffic wardens and environmental protection inspectors rarely enforce the ban. So it's absurd for the government even to bother doing the survey.

First, a confession: I drive every day and I have idled my engine on more than a few occasions. Only three drivers have been fined for idling more than the three-minute limit since the law came into effect last December and I am not one of them. In those times when agents of the law walked by, not a single one ever stopped and timed me.

However, I have been repeatedly ticketed, over many years, for failing to add money to parking meters that had expired just minutes before. From this, I can only conclude the priority of officers is to penalise overtime parking, an offence that actually harms no one, to the neglect of engine-idling, which does harm to everyone's health.

Environment chief Wong Kam-sing told lawmakers yesterday that 806 vehicles were timed, presumably not from the time when they stopped and kept the engines on, but when an officer stepped next to the car to alert the driver. This amounts to a warning, and of course, few drivers would end up getting fined that way.

There were also 40 days during this summer when enforcement was formally suspended because the weather was too hot or too wet. This is allowed under the law, thanks to myriad exemptions written into it.

Seriously, has the Environmental Protection Department been subsumed under Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks? For this paper tiger of a law, we have to thank Wong's predecessor, Edward Yau Tang-wah, the current director of the Chief Executive's Office.

The lack of enforcement, compared to how readily officers penalise parking offences, indicates it's official policy. I can assure you I would turn off my engine unfailingly if there was a good chance I'd be fined. Let's not be intimidated by angry truckers, delivery van drivers and their trade leaders. Enforce the law, please!

Correction:  Police do not enforce the idling engine ban, only traffic wardens and environmental protection inspectors. A mistaken reference to the police in the original article has been dropped. 


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Three minutes is impossible to monitor except from a close distance.
An alert driver will shut down the engine after 2.9 minutes.

A smart officer may realize that on some car models, the headlights are coupled to the engine control, and check to see if the headlights remain illuminated for over 3 minutes.

The fine should probably be raised to $1000. to provide a more viable deterrent.

But – in many cases, these idling cars are illegally parked in core HK, where there are lots of empty parking spaces.
( so much so that Cheung Kong centre wanted to convert these to other uses )
Aggressively ticketing illegally parked cars, may force them into parking lots,
solving 2 problems.

At night arount The Landmark in central on any weekday evening, long queues of
idling taxi’s wait for the next fare. They are legal, because they are inching forward in the queue in less than 3 minutes.

What HK needs is a better taxi.

Toyota has hybrids ranging from Prius to Lexus SUV
Its now a proven design.
Adapting either frame to be a new HK taxi, is an unattainable goal.
The car will automatically shut down, and can even inch forward in slow queues without restarting the engine.
While pollution from idling engines affects street pollution, it's not going to get rid of the haze that we enjoy 365 days a year.
The main cause is trucks, lorries, buses and the container ships that are running Euro 2 specs or burning fuel with extremely high sulfur.
The bus companies need to upgrade their fleets, no question about it.
Shipping industry also needs to burn cleaner fuel when inside Hong Kong waters. Honestly I couldn't care less if the ships got diverted to China ports where the pollution laws are lax. We're paying for it in human lives to satiate a handful of shipping magnates. If Singapore can impose these kinds of rules and still be neck to neck with Hong Kong in economic performance, then clearly there is no net economic loss to Hong Kong to implement strict air pollution regulations immediately.
Chinese people, for the most part, are not confrontational. These wardens fear the wrath of a driver yelling and screaming and threatening with his/her triad or governmental connections to pay the warden back in kind. These wardens are also seen as lesser officers representing the government in a culture that truly does not respect authority. Much easier to ticket a parked car at a meter with no driver and go home in one piece with no ulcer.
From very beginning, the law itself is full of controversy and should not be there at all. The main sources of air pollution come from buses and lorries. The HK government just took an easy way and tried to cheat HK people that it had already been taking actions to cure the air pollution. Whether it is effective and proper, it does not seem to care - but please do not blame the government being non-action.
The quality of air is becoming worse and worse, in contrary to the figures given out by the government. This is a clear indicator that the government has done a lot but nothing effective.


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