Stiffer fines can only ease, not solve, Hong Kong's parking problem

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 4:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 4:04am

Illegal parking is a common problem in many cities. From New York to Tokyo, there are drivers who leave their vehicles illegally parked for convenience sake. But their convenience can be a nightmare to others who use the road. Not only does it slow down vehicle and pedestrian flow, it may also cause traffic accidents. The situation in Hong Kong is no different. What sets the city apart, however, is the low penalty. The driver can walk away with a mere fine of HK$320, compared with HK$2,000 for jay walking and HK$1,500 for littering. What is more baffling is that the level has not been adjusted for two decades. The case for a review is obvious.

The momentum has been renewed as the police weighed into the debate. More than 860,000 tickets were issued in the first 10 months of this year, up 13 per cent from the same period last year. It's unclear whether the rise reflects a worsening trend or vigorous enforcement. Whatever the case, the figures show there are reasons to be concerned.

The police are right in saying that the penalty is too low to deter non-compliance. For instance, drivers in Sydney face a much higher penalty, of A$607 (HK$4,300) for breaking parking rules. Offenders in New York pay US$60 to US$515, while Londoners will be fined the equivalent of HK$1,020 to HK1,660.

Illegal parking is unlikely to be eliminated even with a heavier penalty. There are the well-to-do who are always willing to pay for some convenience. But as the police said, the fine should be high enough to have some deterrent effect. The transport bureau should look seriously into the matter and the community can debate the appropriate level.

But the problem goes beyond penalties and compliance. With some 650,000 licensed vehicles, the city has more vehicles on the streets per kilometre than most cities. This is aggravated by a severe shortage of parking facilities. Only 198,000 of the 683,000 that exist are for public use. This includes 18,000 on-street parking metres. Given the shortage of parking spaces, illegal parking is likely to persist, but a steeper fine could deter breaches and hopefully, reduce the problem.