Old trucks face scrapheap to curb air pollution
Cash incentives to take worst-polluting vehicles out of use; law to make ships burn cleaner fuel
Lau Wai-kei spends his days driving a blue dump truck - the very colour everyone wants Hong Kong's sky to be. It is the first and only truck Lau has bought and has helped fund his wedding, home and feed his two children.
But the truck, registered in 1995, is deemed to be among the city's most polluting vehicles, emitting 34 times as many particles as the latest model. The continued use of trucks like Lau's could even threaten lives.
That is why Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday pledged to introduce a HK$10 billion package to remove tens of thousands of the dirtiest vehicles from the streets in phases between now and 2019. It is the largest and most expensive measure ever to clean up the city's air.
As well as offering larger cash incentives for owners to scrap their vehicles than previous, unsuccessful schemes, the vehicle replacement plan will also limit the lifespan of newly registered trucks to a maximum of 15 years.
Officials say a new law would be needed to impose the lifespan limit before they seek lawmakers' approval for the funding.
Besides addressing the problem of what he called "carcinogenic" roadside pollution, Leung also pledged to introduce legislation next year to require all oceangoing vessels to use fuel with lower sulphur content when berthed in the city, a move think tank Civic Exchange called a "major breakthrough" that could reduce the sulphur emissions by up to a third.
Leung also plans to force all 15,000 vessels operating in local waters to use cleaner fuel.
Officials hope these policies can improve air quality, helping to extend the lives of the 3,000 people estimated to die prematurely each year due to air pollution and reduce annual economic losses of HK$39 billion attributed by experts to the pollution. But the measures are set to prompt a battle with the transport industry, which says the package goes too far, and green groups like Friends of the Earth and Clean Air Network which say the old vehicles are not being phased out quickly enough.
Under the plan, about 88,000 commercial diesel vehicles which pre-date the Euro IV emission standard introduced in the city in 2006 would be removed from the streets in phases. These vehicles account for about half of all nitrogen oxides emissions and 88 per cent of particles at the roadside.
From 2016, no new licences would be allowed for vehicles that pre-date the Euro and Euro I emissions standards. Pre-Euro II vehicles will not be licensed from 2017, pre-Euro III vehicles from 2019. By the deadlines, these vehicles would be at least 13 years old. Some would have been running for more than 18 years.
Ex-gratia payments based on the age of the vehicle and representing a percentage of the cost of replacement would be offered to affected owners. Those who scrap and replace old vehicles could receive between 18 per cent and 30 per cent of the cost of the replacement, up from 10 per cent to 12 per cent in past schemes.
Unlike previous schemes, owners who scrap their vehicle without replacement would also receive cash, at a rate of between 10 per cent and 18 per cent of a new vehicle's cost.
But Lau, the truck owner, said a payment of just HK$200,000 would not be enough for him to buy a new truck, which would cost HK$1 million. "It is going to rob me of my living," he said, adding he would drive his vehicle until the 2016 deadline.
Leung Kun-kuen, chairman of the Kowloon Trucks Merchants Association, said the package was far from satisfactory, adding: "Are [the officials] going to force the operators out of business and prompt them to take to the streets?"
Leung said the compensation for owners who did not buy a new vehicle remained unattractive, and questioned whether even a 30 per cent payment would be enough to encourage owners to scrap Euro III vehicles, as the sum would be similar to what they would receive for selling their used vehicle.
But Chow Yu-lung, 60, who has suffered from asthma for 23 years and avoids walking in urban areas, wants the plan introduced as soon as possible.
"If these vehicles are removed, I could hit the streets again, rather than hiding at home with an air purifier," he said, adding that he sympathised with those who might lose their job because of the plan.
Professor Anthony Hedley of the University of Hong Kong's community medicine department said there were limits to Leung's plan, but it remained a "defining moment".
"I certainly think the owners should accept responsibility for their vehicles," he said. "We would not allow the driving of vehicles with no brakes or defective steering, and we shouldn't allow vehicles with dirty emissions which are killing people."
Tim Smith, chairman of the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association said his group was "pleased to see the chief executive's support in the policy address for action".
Smith is also North Asia chief executive for Maersk Line, one of 18 shipping companies that signed the Fair Winds Charter, a voluntary programme in which the firms agreed to use low-sulphur fuel from January 2011 while urging government regulation.