Hong Kong must act now to tackle road congestion
When officials say something is worthy of support in principle and will be implemented in stages in light of the circumstances, they probably mean they are not keen to do so, or have no idea how to go about it. This appears to be the case with the proposals put forward by top transport advisers to tackle the city's worsening traffic congestion. Many of the ideas are simple enough, yet they have been gathering dust on the shelf for years despite repeated studies and consultations.
It would be unfair to say the government has done nothing, though. For instance, bus traffic in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok is said to have been reduced by more than 2,000 trips over the past two years as a result of route realignment. The government has also set aside HK$11.4 billion in subsidies to help phase out some 82,000 polluting diesel commercial vehicles by 2020.
But whether these steps translate into any real improvement is another matter. If a study by a green group is any guide, levels of PM 2.5 pollutant in Central during evening rush hours are double the World Health Organisation's air quality guideline.
The government is, indeed, well aware of the deteriorating traffic situation. The number of private cars jumped by 40 per cent to 137,000 between 2003 and 2013, while the average annual growth rate of the total length of public roads was only 0.8 per cent during the same period. Congestion has become so serious that traffic on some major roads can slow to not much more than walking speed during weekday peak hours, according to government figures in 2013.
That the problem has not been tackled with a greater sense of urgency is disappointing. Some of the 12 recommendations tabled by the Transport Advisory Committee could have been implemented right away.
This includes raising the HK$320 fine for illegal parking, which has not been adjusted since 1994. The proposed congestion charging scheme is another long overdue measure. But the transport chief only said there would be an exercise to listen to public views on the implementation, raising doubt if the scheme will ever be carried out.
We hope the government is not just paying lip service when it says it will take into account stakeholders' views. Officials have to show a stronger political will in tackling congestion lest the situation deteriorates further.