A HK$3.2 billion incentive scheme to encourage owners of old, smoke-belching trucks, buses and minibuses to replace them with clean-burning models has attracted applications from owners of just 2.4 per cent of the eligible vehicles. Just 20 heavy trucks have been replaced.
In the first six months of the three-year voluntary scheme, launched on April 1, the Transport Department approved 1,787 applications. The scheme covers 74,000 vehicles in service for 11 years or more.
Owners who replace vehicles built before the European Union introduced limits on vehicle emissions in 1992 (called Euro I), or licensed before tighter Euro II standards came in four years later, can get subsidies of HK$17,000 to HK$173,000 for replacing them with Euro IV models.
The government says Euro IV models emit up to 74 per cent less respirable suspended particulates (RSP) and 38 per cent less nitrogen oxides than the older vehicles.
Grants of HK$70 million have been handed out so far to replace 1,052 light trucks, 604 medium-sized trucks, 20 heavy goods vehicles, 22 minibuses and 89 buses.
Greenpeace campaign manager Edward Chan Yue-fai said the low participation rate showed the drive to cut emissions was 'in vain'.
'With progress at such a snail's pace, one can predict how effective this voluntary scheme will be in reducing the roadside pollution,' Mr Chan said.
Vehicles are the second-largest source of air pollution in Hong Kong, contributing about 25 per cent of the city's emissions of RSPs and nitrogen oxides. Diesel trucks are the biggest vehicle polluters, accounting for 90 per cent of particulates emissions and 80 per cent of nitrogen oxides.
Leung Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Public and Maxicab Light Bus Merchants United Association, said the availability of Euro IV vehicles was very limited.
Public light bus operator Chan Man-chun said: 'Even if I place an order today, the vehicles will only be available in Hong Kong in March next year.'
Hong Kong Container Tractor Owners' Association chairman Ricky Wong Kay said two-thirds of trucks on the road were running cross- border routes.
'We still hesitate about the scheme because we worry the diesel requirement of Euro IV is not in line with the mainland's,' Mr Wong said.
A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said: 'It is too early to draw any conclusion on the [scheme's] participation rate.'
He said the government would not extend the scheme's duration because that would 'go against the objective to encourage the early replacement of the old vehicles for better roadside air quality'.