My Take

Polluters should pay for clean vehicles

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 2:18pm

It's a good thing that the government has finally rolled out a programme to replace old catalytic converters and oxygen sensors on taxis and minibuses. We will, hopefully, have less toxic air to breathe in the city. The only problem I have is that it is a subsidy programme. Why should I and other taxpayers pay for it? Shouldn't the polluters pay?

This scheme is estimated to cost us HK$150 million, according to Christine Loh Kung-wai, long-time clean-air advocate and undersecretary for the environment, and is expected to be completed by next year.

Taxi licences are now changing hands for more than HK$7 million, making them one of the hottest markets for speculators. Surely their owners and speculators - and taxi companies - should be responsible for funding the replacement because their vehicles have been contributing significantly to air pollution. They can certainly afford it, thanks to the government's deliberate policy of limiting licence supply and so creating a speculative market.

Over the last 10 years, almost all taxis and two-thirds of minibuses have been converted to run on liquefied petroleum gas. This has been billed as a major achievement. But they require regular and costly maintenance, due to their high mileage.

The problem is, transport officials have devised low standards in testing for emissions. According to Civic Exchange, founded incidentally by Loh, the mandatory annual emissions tests for licence renewal cannot adequately identify vehicles with excessive emissions and do not measure nitrogen oxide, a major source of pollution. It's estimated that 80 per cent of LPG taxis and 45 per cent of LPG minibuses had faulty catalytic converters and sensors, mainly due to poor maintenance. You wonder if the annual tests deliberately have low standards to make sure most polluting vehicles get a licence renewal. The government is effectively rewarding the irresponsibility of polluters out of the pockets of taxpayers. Officials are bending over backwards to placate the transport trade.

Now the programme has started, they should at least have the decency to devise tougher tests to enforce proper maintenance. Otherwise, there will be more massive subsidies down the road.