Hong Kong could be a role model for China in terms of sustainable mass public transport, an expert in the field said yesterday while suggesting the mainland public was becoming too dependent on the use of cars rather than railways. Peter Newman, professor of city policy and director of the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University in Australia, said extensive construction of roads and an over-reliance on cars were outdated modes of development. He described the problem of dependence on cars as being as obvious as 'an elephant in the room' and said it was the biggest problem of 21st-century cities. He was speaking at a plenary session of the 12th International Sustainable Development Research Conference organised by the Centre of Urban Planning and Environmental Management, University of Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post is a media partner of the event, which was attended by about 300 academics and researchers worldwide on a diversified theme of sustainable development. 'If you look at the Chinese cities now, there is lots of ... development but no more bicycles in the street. Cars seem to be the future of China. In this regard, the Hong Kong model is important,' he said. It was estimated that if China's car ownership rate reached the same level of the United States, the additional number of cars would amount to 800 million, which would have serious implications for depleting oil reserves. 'Hong Kong will survive any oil crisis as it is structured to be able to,' said Professor Newman, who helped to draft a sustainable development strategy for Western Australia. He added that Hong Kong had the edge in sustainable transport which was used by about 82 per cent of the population, compared with just 15 per cent in Perth. The passenger car usage rate was also much lower than other places. It was estimated that the average kilometres per person travelled by car was just 930km a year, versus 13,500km in Perth. He said generally roads were far less effective in terms of carrying capacity, saying that one rail could replace up to 12 lanes of freeway in Australia. 'It's all about space, and space is money in the city,' he said. The three-day sustainable conference will end today.