Revenue from a personalised car number plate scheme launched last September is expected to fall well below target in its first year.
But a HK$60 million fund to fight poverty, generated from auctions of the plates, will not be affected.
The Personalised Vehicle Registration Marks Scheme was launched in 2004-05 by Henry Tang Ying-yen when he was financial secretary.
There have been eight auctions so far and one more today to round off the first year of operation. Some HK$51 million has been raised - 27 per cent below the $70 million target.
According to the scheme, in its first five years of operation, the annual net proceeds of $60 million - sale proceeds minus administrative costs - would be used to fund poverty alleviation initiatives.
The Transport Department said the fund would be delivered as estimated despite the shortfall. 'The commitment will not be affected, even if the actual receipt from auctions is below our estimation.'
It said a review of the scheme would be conducted and a report made to the Legislative Council next year.
Figures from the Transport Department reveal that the number of applications for personalised plates had exceeded the ceiling of 1,500 in all four phases, but proceeds from auctions varied from HK$3.7 million to HK$11.3 million. Critics fear revenues will continue to fall as interest in the scheme fades.
Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, a professor of economics at Chinese University, said it was another example of the government overestimating its revenues. He expected the lukewarm response to continue.
'Most lucky numbers were taken out in the first few auctions and the fervour cooled down quickly,' he said, adding that many self-designed car plates were left uncontested in recent auctions, which showed there was little demand for such plates.
'Unlike collecting stamps or coins, these car plates may only be appealing to some people and the secondhand market is limited.'
He said the money generated contributed a relatively small portion of government income.
Car plate traders have mixed views on the future of the scheme. Ngan Man-hon, director of the Lucky Number Centre, agreed there were not many eye-catching car plates left in the pool and thought it unlikely the scheme would hit the HK$70 million mark. His company had successfully bid for 50 personalised car plates, but sales were disappointing.
'Not many people are asking about these plates. It was a completely different picture compared with traditional ones, which are very hot in the market.'
Tsui Yat, of My Number Centre, was more optimistic and said appealing plate numbers could produce huge profit margins. His company had resold about 20 plates so far, with each one fetching three or four times the original price.
He blamed the revenue shortfall on a lack of publicity.
'Many people do not know these plates are the same as ordinary ones, which can be transferred in the secondhand market,' he said.
'It will be better after three to five years.'