Car-as-status-symbol mentality must end

In recent years, increased awareness about the environmental impact of vehicle emissions has helped change how vehicle ownership is perceived in many cosmopolitan cities. Rather than being a status symbol of wealth and modernity, multiple ownership of gas-guzzling vehicles in excess of the family's needs is increasingly frowned upon. Many cultures now prefer to celebrate healthy and environment-friendly living as a symbol of success and good citizenship.

But in Hong Kong, there has been an increase of 10,000 new licensed vehicles every year since 2007, with the number of private cars now more than 400,000 - more than two-thirds of all vehicles in Hong Kong.

Rather than attempt to eradicate the notion of owning vehicles as a status symbol, this government is happy to facilitate the personalisation of number plates. A 'government fleet' of vehicles is provided for the top officials with their exclusive 'AM' badges. Most prestigious of all of course, is the vehicle in which the chief executive is transported, set apart from the vehicles of the other officials by its different manufacturer and bearing the most exclusive licence plate of all - a Hong Kong government logo incorporating the regional flag. Make no mistake, a vehicle in Hong Kong is still popularly used to represent your status.

Since Hong Kong has yet to grow out of using private vehicles to project social status, the government should remind drivers of the cost and inconvenience of private road travel. But instead, it continues to build more new roads to ensure road travel is the primary travel option.

Meanwhile, no attempt has been made to encourage the use of bicycles as a mode of transport despite its popularity as a leisure activity, while cries for an electronic road pricing system fall on deaf ears. Many cities already have successful policy which we can follow, mostly based on the simple concept that those who drive cars despite alternatives must pay the price. Or else the price will be paid by future generations who could end up living in a dystopia of endless roads bypassing bypasses on which human interaction is reduced to the 'hello' of your licence plate.