Bicycles part of the transport solution
Hong Kong boasts some of the world's most efficient and cleanest public transport systems. Given how small our city is compared to many major world cities, there is rarely a real need to own a car.
Yet our private car fleet passed the 500,000 mark in March. If left to grow unchecked, it will hit 540,000 by 2017. This is despite an increase in the tax imposed on new imported cars in 2011.
For once, this has united environmentalists and transport officials. Our air is bad enough without new cars hitting the road every day and worsening it.
Meanwhile, the Transport Department frets about the rate of car ownership outpacing the availability of roads. If this continues, congestion will only become even more severe as well as more frequent.
According to the department, car ownership per 1,000 people rose by 25 per cent to 63.4 between 2002 and 2012. Some owners have two or more cars registered in their names. However, the length of road per 1,000 only increased by 1.7 per cent.
Why the big jump in car ownership despite record petrol prices and high taxes?
One explanation may be rising property prices. Those who own flats are far more likely to own cars too. The property bubble has made many people rich. Even those who have not sold their flats feel richer than before when they look at property adverts and find out how much their flats are now worth.
Naturally they feel they have spare cash to buy the finer things in life. Furthermore in Hong Kong, car ownership is a status symbol. If you think are you a high-net-worth individual, you need the right car model to match your social status. This trend needs to be reversed. Hopefully, the deflating property bubble will have an impact on car sales.
But the government and the public need to commit to a multi-ponged approach. Raising already high taxes on cars is one way. Introducing electronic road pricing is another, such as using it on the Central-Wan Chai bypass to be opened in 2017. We need to promote not only the use of public transport, but also cycling. Officials still think cycling is a sport, but many major cities around the world have seriously incorporated it as part of their urban and transport planning. Our roads need to be made safe for cyclists.