Locals fume as polluting tour buses choke scenic Repulse Bay

Ban on idling engines is widely flouted and traffic wardens are nowhere to be seen as mainland tour groups add to woes of popular seaside spot

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 10:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 5:00am

Repulse Bay fought its way back from foul waters that almost closed its beach 25 years ago. But the scenic seaside spot faces another pollution threat: an invasion of tour buses whose drivers flout rules against idling engines.

Locals say Beach Road, the 1.5-kilometre seafront thoroughfare, is almost lawless.

"I've been working here for four years and I can tell you police and traffic wardens never come here unless there's a car accident," said a janitor who manages the Beach Road public toilet.

On a visit by the South China Morning Post, at least two dozen tour buses - large, medium and small - were seen parked along the one-way Beach Road. At least half of the buses had their engines running for longer than the permitted three minutes. Many were also parked illegally.

Video: Tour buses flout idling engine ban in Repulse Bay

Under the 2012 Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance, drivers face a HK$320 fine if they do not turn off their engines within three minutes of a warning. Both traffic wardens and Environmental Protection Department inspectors can issue penalties.

The janitor said a huge influx of mainland tour groups to the beach and nearby temple had seen the number of buses soar. Drivers fire up their engines to get the air conditioning humming before tourists return, he says.

"It gets worse in the summertime," the janitor said.

The department said 59 vehicles on Beach Road had their idling engines timed during 11 patrols between July and December last year, but only two penalties notices were issued - including one for a tour coach.

Local resident Anita Gidumal said that she has to tell bus drivers to switch off their engines at least once a week. "My family used to come down to the beach a lot, but now we don't, because I don't want my kids breathing in this stuff," she said. "Tour companies are making money while taxpayers foot the bill" for health costs and other associated problems.

She links the problem to two sources: a lack of legal parking places for tour buses, and drivers' reluctance to circle the area while waiting for passengers because of heavy traffic on Repulse Bay and South Bay roads.

The department acknowledged the problem. "Traffic wardens have been advised to pay more attention to these black spots … and will issue penalties to drivers" who break the law, a spokeswoman said.

Southern District councillor Fergus Fung Se-goun said he was disappointed about the lack of law enforcement on Beach Road.

"Police told me they had to prioritise the use of manpower," Fung said. He noted that a legal loophole allowing a bus driver to keep the engine running if at least one passenger was on board made the law even more flawed and harder to enforce.

"Honestly speaking, it's not an effective policy at all."

Fung expects traffic to worsen when the Emperor Group's long-delayed The Pulse shopping mall opens at the end of the year.

The council has called for a car park on Beach Road to be converted into a tour bus layover with parking meters, and for a limit on the number of tour buses permitted to enter the area.

A police spokesman said officers had no power to enforce the law on idling engines.

Citywide, complaints about idling engines fell 40 per cent, from 1,802 in 2012 to about 1,000 last year. But out of 3,184 vehicles timed, only 89 fines were issued - about a third to non-franchised buses.

Under a recently approved HK$11.4 billion plan, owners of diesel commercial vehicles - including tour buses - are entitled to payments to retire them. But the first such vehicles will not leave the road until 2017. In the meantime, foul air remains a part of life on Beach Road.