Transport operators make demands over plan to scrap old diesel trucks

Maximum government payout to replace diesel trucks should be given across the board regardless of vehicle age, say angry transport operators

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 4:47am

The government and transport operators squared off yesterday over their conflicting proposals for phasing out old, polluting diesel vehicles, ahead of a meeting between the two sides today.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing insisted the government's HK$10 billion proposal, under which replacement subsidies would depend on the age of the vehicle, was reasonable.

But the operators, who want an across-the-board payment regardless of vehicle age, among other demands, said they would not support the plan unless their demands were met.

"Is it reasonable [to make the payments] regardless of whether they scrap their vehicles and how old their vehicles are?" Wong, who will meet trade representatives this afternoon, asked on a radio programme.

Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai said the department was studying the counterproposal and would soon "negotiate and bargain" over the plans.

Under the government package, about 88,000 diesel commercial vehicles - excluding franchised buses - will be phased out by 2019 if they cannot meet Euro IV emissions standards. Introduced in 2000, Euro IV reduced permitted emissions by 28 to 80 per cent from Euro III standards.

Depending on the age of the vehicle, owners will get an 18 to 30 per cent subsidy on the cost of a new one if they replace their trucks. Those who choose to scrap their vehicle without buying a new one will get a cash incentive based on its age.

But a dozen transport trade groups want a 30 per cent payment regardless of vehicle age. They also want the first registration tax for new vehicles waived for two years.

Chiang Chi-wai, a spokesman for the Lok Ma Chau China-Hong Kong Freight Association, said that unless their demands were met, they would not support the deadline. "It is against the law if they limit the lifespan of existing vehicles whose operations are within the law," he said.

Chiang said the trade's image had been tarnished by the environment officials who had ignored the impact of the new measures on the livelihood of thousands of drivers.

"The government has a smear campaign against us, trying to mobilise the public to judge us by disseminating unfavourable figures about pollution from diesel trucks," he said. Chiang would not rule out mass protests if their demands were not addressed.

On plans for changes to electricity tariffs, Wong said he did not favour an across-the-board progressive structure for bulk users like the MTR or hospitals because that would lead to price increases.

Instead, he said he would prefer such a structure only for commercial buildings. This could be based on the intensity of energy use of the buildings measured on usage per floor area, he said.

Wong pledged to discuss the matter with power firms in the first half of this year.