Want to solve Hong Kong's out-of-control illegal parking problem? Raise the fine to HK$2,500
Yonden Lhatoo says we're too soft on motorists, including chauffeur-driven tycoons, adding to the traffic chaos on Hong Kong’s crowded roads
I was in Kowloon City over the weekend, sitting in a friend’s car as she drove around looking for a non-existent parking spot. I wanted to have a decent cup of coffee in one of the refreshingly new Western-style cafes that have sprung up in the heart of the old district over the last few years, but we had to give up after 15 minutes because there was just no place to park the car.
As usual, there was traffic chaos on each and every one of the side roads that form a popular retail grid between the main thoroughfares of Carpenter Road and Boundary Street, with double- and triple-parked private cars and delivery vans reducing vehicle flow to a one-lane crawl. A whole lot of honking and swearing was going on.
Like most Hong Kong people, I normally move on, but this time I decided to make a stand and called police to complain. I knew if I didn’t, nobody else would do a damn thing.
According to official statistics, the average number of fixed penalty tickets issued daily against offenders has surged 15 per cent from last year and 21 per cent from the year before.
Police handed out 723,129 tickets in the first seven months of this year. That’s an average of 3,379 a day and works out to one ticket every 26 seconds.
It’s pretty clear police are working on the problem, but it’s far from enough. You only have to take a look at black spots in Central, Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok on any given day to see drivers flouting the law with impunity.
It’s also pretty clear tickets are hardly a deterrent, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out this has to do with the laughable fine for illegal parking – HK$320. But it may indeed take a genius to explain why this ridiculously low penalty – compared with HK$2,000 for jaywalking and HK$1,500 for littering – has not been increased since 1994.
If only someone in a position of power would come up with a deterrent strong enough to make a difference.
The Transport Advisory Committee has suggested the penalty should be raised to HK$448. Lame. Even though it’s a 40 per cent increase, factoring in inflation from 1994 to 2013, it’s still chump change for most people who can afford a car in this city.
It certainly won’t make any difference to all those fat cats in Central whose luxury cars clog up main roads and side streets as their chauffeurs, parked bumper to bumper on double yellow lines, wait to pick them up at lunch time or after work.
Jack it up to HK$2,500, I say. It’s not an outrageous amount, considering the HK$2,000 fine for jaywalking. That will burn a big enough hole in most motorists’ pockets to make them think twice about parking their vehicles illegally.
As for the chauffeur-driven tycoons, if police have the political courage and will to do their duty, keep on slapping the heftier fines on them and see how long they can keep paying that sort of money on a daily basis just for the convenience and ego boost of being picked up right outside their offices.
It’s quite ironic how the rule of law has become a mantra for the authorities after the Occupy protests but it’s ignored in the heart of Hong Kong’s international business district.
When we drove off from Kowloon City that day after the failed coffee-break parking quest, I had a smug smile on my face. My sense of irritation – exacerbated by caffeine deprivation – was assuaged to a great extent by the sight of two traffic policemen busily placing tickets on the windscreens of all those vehicles parked illegally.
Now if only they would act without waiting for a complaint call.