Increase parking fine as first step
There is a consensus within government on the need to control the growth in private car ownership, according to the No 2 environment official, undersecretary Christine Loh Kung-wai. Whether such a meeting of minds generates some action will have an important bearing on Hong Kong's future quality of life. After all, the number of cars surged by 40 per cent in the 10 years to 2013, despite the fact that the city is well served by public transport and remains poorly served by roads and parking. If those complementary factors did little to discourage ownership, slowing such growth with punitive increases in taxes and fees is a politically daunting prospect indeed.
Loh didn't say how it was to be done, but said the ball was in the Transport Bureau's court. That may be bureaucratically correct, but how to reconcile the right of car ownership with the best interests of society is a matter for government as a whole.
The stakes are high - reducing traffic congestion that impacts on the city's economic efficiency and competitiveness, and improving poor roadside air quality that impacts on our health - a problem entirely within our own control.
The government has no plans to impose an arbitrary cap on the number of private cars, preferring instead to try to contain it with higher registration taxes, annual licence fees, meter parking charges and parking fines among other measures - all recommended long ago after an eight-month study by the transport advisory committee.
Officials should demonstrate serious intent now with a meaningful increase in the HK$320 fine for illegal parking that reflects the fact it has not been adjusted since 1994! To combat both congestion and roadside air pollution, the government has not ruled out electronic road pricing to discourage unnecessary private car trips once the Central-Wan Chai bypass is opened. Such negatives should be balanced with positive incentives for leaving cars at home, such as good public transport integrated with dedicated pedestrian areas.