Hong Kong's emission testing regime for vehicles is a major fail
I had a run-in with the Environmental Protection Department recently. It offers insights into what is wrong with our post-1997 handover government when it comes to formulating new policies and introducing corrective measures.
Since September last year, the department has installed automated roadside monitors to check vehicles for excessive emissions. The programme covers private cars, delivery vans, taxis and minibuses. It has issued more than 4,000 notices up to September this year to drivers to have their cars checked. My beat-up Mazda was among those cars.
Well, my car passed the test, in all three categories: carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. The two cars - one was a taxi - before me also passed. The test centre owner told me most cars he has checked this year passed the test.
Intrigued, I inquired a little deeper into the programme with the EPD. It turns out the emission tests have an astonishing pass rate of 95 per cent! Now bear in mind drivers have to pay HK$465 for the test, whether or not they pass. So the notice amounts to a penalty through no fault of most of those car owners; their cars are just fine.
The department has received 19 complaints about the programme up to September. Granted, some cars might have been repaired before taking the test. Others might have failed the first test, been repaired and then passed a second test. But it's safe to assume that most cars just passed first time.
Now, are the roadside monitors faulty? I have spoken to the EPD and university engineers and they all claim the monitors are working fine. What happens is that the tests are too lenient. The emission standards used for my test are roughly those of Euro 3, set back in 2000. If they had used Euro 4 standards, I would have failed in all three categories. (The latest is Euro 6). Newer cars are tested with tougher standards.
Under pressure from green groups, the government is rightly enforcing emission laws. But it is afraid of antagonising drivers and those in the delivery and taxi trades. It ends up pleasing no one under the current system. I would recommend the following revamp: reimburse those who pass the test but introduce tougher standards so those who fail will pay a fine in addition to paying for the test.