Smoke-belching trucks to stay on Hong Kong's roads longer, lawmakers rule

Lawmakers lose effort to dump one-year extension for polluting diesel vehicles but give their backing to HK$11.7b scheme nevertheless

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 11:19am

Officials are standing firm on a revised HK$11.7 billion package to retire the city's 85,000 polluting diesel trucks by 2020, despite pressure from lawmakers to do it sooner.

The scheme received unanimous endorsement from the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel yesterday. But lawmakers expressed concerns over the one-year deadline extension for phasing out Euro II- and Euro III-standard vehicles.

"Businesses such as auto body repair shops are already taking a hit because everyone is just sitting here waiting for what's going to happen and putting everything on hold," said Kwok Wai-keung, of the Federation of Trade Unions.

"Can we not introduce the scheme as soon as possible to end this uncertainty?"

Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, of the Civic Party, said the one-year deferrals were "ridiculous" as the government was also asking for more money for the scheme.

Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing said that for the sake of air quality and people's health, it was in everyone's interest to have the scheme implemented as soon as possible. But the government was trying to give owners more flexibility in how they would replace their vehicles.

"This is the final package. We have tried to balance the interests of all sectors and trades," he said.

His undersecretary, Christine Loh Kung-wai, said lawmakers needed to be "realistic" as a consensus had to be built among interest groups to get their support.

"If you want to see a consensus among the industry and among legislators, then the proposed scheme is the answer," Loh said.

Under the revised scheme, Euro I, II and III diesel vehicles will have to be taken off the road by 2017, 2018 and 2020, respectively.

The deadline to phase out the most polluting pre-Euro diesel vehicles remains unchanged at 2016. The scheme will also set the operating life of new vehicles at 15 years.

The revised scheme, which will cost HK$3 billion more than the original, will pay owners more - 27 to 33 per cent of the replacement cost, up from 10-33 per cent.

Environment Protection Department deputy director Andrew Lai Chi-wah urged vehicle owners to take advantage of the bigger incentive and replace their vehicles as soon as possible.

But Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai expressed doubts and called for an adjustable payment to encourage early replacement.

"I would like to know how many vehicles will be allowed to remain on the road and how many will be able to be replaced earlier," he said. "We need to make sure owners are encouraged to replace earlier and not wait until the last minute."