ENVIRONMENT

Idling engine ban has failed to clear the air

Complaints down 40pc, but minister admits impact on pollution has been minimal as commercial vehicles, not cars, are main culprits

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 5:12am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 5:12am

A law banning idling engines has come under fire for having only a minimal impact on improving air quality, nearly two years after it was introduced.

Lawmakers said the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance had not stopped idling engines, which caused pollution and were a nuisance to pedestrians.

Environment chief Wong Kam-sing defended the ban, which came into effect in December 2011, saying it had reduced the number of complaints about roadside discomfort caused by hot exhaust fumes and noise pollution.

The number of idling engine complaints had dropped 40 per cent, from 1,802 last year to about 1,000 this year, Wong said.

Environment bureau statistics show that in the past two years, 3,070 idling vehicles were timed but only 86 fines were issued. Most were handed out to drivers of non-franchised buses and private vehicles.

Drivers are only fined if they don't turn off their engines within three minutes of a warning.

Wong said stricter enforcement of the ordinance by police traffic wardens and environmental protection inspectors had helped reduce non-compliance in black spots.

Top black spots include Centre Street and Edinburgh Place in Central, Lockhart Road in Wan Chai, Po Kong Village Road in Wong Tai Sin, and Fu Yan Street in Kwun Tong.

But Kowloon East lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun criticised the ban for its lack of bite.

"The plan sounded grand at the beginning but after 24 months we have not seen any significant improvement in the air quality," he said.

Wong admitted the ban's impact on overall air quality was "not too significant" as the main source of pollutants in the city did not come from private vehicles but commercial diesel vehicles and regional pollution.

"There are many private vehicles but they are not the main source of pollutants," Wong said.

"We should cut emissions of air pollutants from old commercial diesel vehicles, ships and power stations, as well as pollution sources in the Pearl River Delta region."

Lawmakers yesterday finally passed a long-awaited air pollution control bill that offers subsidies for phasing out pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles.

Under the new law, which goes into effect in February, Euro I, II and III diesel commercial vehicles are to be taken off the road by 2017, 2018 and 2020, respectively. The operating life of all newly registered vehicles will be limited to 15 years.

A discretionary clause that allows the Environmental Protection Department to grant one-year exemptions to some vehicle owners under "exceptional circumstances" was criticised by Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan as being too broad.

Air quality improved earlier this week as northeast monsoon rains from southern China helped wash away pollutants. Roadside monitoring stations recorded pollution levels between medium to high.

But this month has already seen seven days of "very polluted" air at various general monitoring stations, compared to just one last month.