Hong Kong has more vehicles on the streets per kilometre than any other city. We have narrow roads in the busiest districts and a shortage of places to park, especially for motorbikes. Ownership is expensive, so those who can afford to drive are usually well-heeled. Logic says that in such circumstances, the best way to deal with rampant illegal parking is to set fines at exorbitantly high levels. Authorities have instead decided that a better way is to increase policing, be less discriminatory about offenders and to launch occasional blitzes on known black spots.
It should come as no surprise to learn that the practice has led to a surge in the number of tickets issued and the amount of fines collected. Last year, nine per cent more fixed-penalty tickets were issued than in 2010, raising in excess of HK$10 million for the government. But for those who have to travel along Queen's Road Central, Ice House Street, Pedder Street, Duddell Street or any of the other identified 14 black spots, it would seem that drivers remain as willing as ever to break the rules. The sight of an expensive car blocking a lane of traffic, its driver at the wheel waiting for the return of his boss, is still common.
For those in a bus behind, rushing to make an appointment or a delivery van driver trying to meet a deadline for a consignment, there can be little as frustrating. Nor is there a sight more guaranteed to boil the blood of a motorcyclist than a car parked across half a dozen spaces reserved for bikes. A traffic warden handing out a ticket does nothing to ease the anger. Nor does the amount printed on it, from HK$320 to HK$450, mean much to those who have committed the offence.
More metered parking spaces or turning the job of handing out tickets to the private sector would go a way to solving the problem. But so, too, would raising fines to the more realistic levels found in other congested cities where economies are well-developed. Until it costs more to park a car illegally than legally, our streets will continue to be frustrating places for law-abiding drivers.