JUST 2,000 additional new cars will be allowed on Hong Kong's roads each year if plans to curb the territory's growing traffic problem are adopted as government policy. The quota system is a key recommendation contained in a transport consultation paper that targets private motorists as the major cause of traffic congestion in Hong Kong, according to well-placed sources. Under the scheme, based on a similar system in Singapore, aspiring first-time car owners will bid for the right to buy a new vehicle. The successful candidates then receive a Certificate of Entitlement which clears them to buy their car. Although only 2,000 certificates will be issued each year, these would be transferable. But existing private car owners will not be affected. They will be able to buy and sell their vehicles as they want. There are currently 264,000 private vehicles on the road, which make up about 60 per cent of Hong Kong's 440,000 registered vehicles, a figure that has been growing at 11 per cent each year. If approved, the new scheme will slash this growth to between one and two per cent. Acknowledging that drastic measures are needed to stop the territory's roads from becoming grid-locked, Transport Secretary Haider Barma suggested during an interview with the Sunday Morning Post that a quota system was being seriously considered. ''The growth of private cars has been phenomenal and it must be suppressed,'' Mr Barma said. ''Singapore has a quota system for cars and that is something being considered for Hong Kong.'' Although he refused to say more, informed sources say his department's consultation paper will recommend a four-year quota system on additional new cars which will pave the way for the introduction of electronic road pricing, where drivers are billed for the time they spend on the road. ''If you want to own a car, the more you use it the more you will have to pay - that is what will happen here in the future,'' Mr Barma said. The quota system is seen as a radical alternative to the present policy of higher taxes to control traffic growth. A working group, headed by Mr Barma and comprising officials from the transport branch and police, has spent the past six months putting together the package of recommendations. They are due to go before Executive Councillors within the next two months, before being released to the public for consultation. If approved, the system could be in place by next year. ''We will be forwarding a series of recommendations and at the end of the day it will be up to the community to decide what they want,'' Mr Barma said. The package would concentrate on improving public transport, introducing traffic management schemes to speed up traffic flow and suppressing the ''phenomenal'' growth of privately-owned vehicles. ''Traffic congestion has deteriorated in the last year especially during rush hour,'' Mr Barma said. Hong Kong road users travelled on average at between 35 and 40 km/h, which was ''not too bad''. But Mr Barma said something must be done because in three to five years ''we will start experiencing gridlock''. ''Of the 10 million daily journey trips, nine million are made on public transport,'' he said. ''From the commuter's point of view we must provide better public transport; the individual motorist will not get the same priority.'' Mr Barma said that although $9 billion had been put forward to build more roads, the majority were airport-related projects. ''We cannot keep building - the more roads we provide, the more opportunities there will be for private cars and we will be back to square one,'' he said. According to Transport Department statistics, 40 per cent of rush hour traffic consists of privately-owned vehicles, of which 25 per cent are chauffeur-driven. Hong Kong Automobile Association spokesman Andrew Windebank claimed the working group's recommendation would be destructive rather than constructive. He said solving traffic jams rested with paying more attention to better road planning and computerising the network. ''The more expensive things are, the more desirable they become,'' he said. ''What the Government needs to do is upgrade traffic control. ''Hong Kong is so far behind the rest of the world in this field it is embarrassing. ''Leading countries have closed circuit television with the appropriate software that assesses traffic problems,'' Mr Windebank said. ''If you have a long tail-back it can make the traffic light stay green for longer phases allowing suitable traffic flow. ''I would also like to see better planning involved. Take the Repulse Bay Road for example. It has not been upgraded in 70-odd years, but they have allowed mass residential development in that area - the road simply cannot cope with that much traffic. ''Another solution would be forcing companies to provide underground parking which would prevent light goods vehicles from parking by the roadside, which also causes jams,'' he said. ''However, there appears to be no interest in solving the problem. ''If so, why has the Government just decided to open one of the border check points 24 hours a day? Why not do the same with all three?'' Mr Windebank said. United Democrats legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip said targeting private car owners was wrong. ''I do not think it is right to place too much emphasis on the private car owner,'' he said. ''The quota system would be unfair to the middle-class people who use their cars at their leisure. I would be more in favour of a park and ride system which works successfully in Canada, the US and Britain.'' Independent legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai said: ''I am willing to give them brownie points if they restrict the number of cars but at the same time you have to present a package which benefits public transport users.''