Hong Kong air pollution

How a smart city vision for Hong Kong can improve its transport system

Adam Koo says smart choices and technology can help create a less-polluted, more liveable city, and the better use of transport options and infrastructure is key

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2017, 6:56pm

There will no doubt be much debate about the vision of Hong Kong in the chief executive’s policy address. One aspect, however, was seemingly clear – a vision of Hong Kong as a smart city.

But what image does a smart city conjure up? It suggests to many a vast array of different technologies, apps and big data. Not a clearly defined picture, but rather a blurry, futuristic image.

A sharper vision of a smart Hong Kong may help government, business and the community to head in the right direction. An end goal of a cleaner, more liveable Hong Kong can give us the definition needed.

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This is about managing the metropolis to ensure sustainable development – enhancing our quality of life, safeguarding the interests of the next generation in terms of a healthy, liveable and low carbon city, while also supporting efficiency and innovation.

Rapidly, with the values of our millennials, these are becoming our societal red lines – a healthy, unpolluted city, playing its part in averting climate change. They help us retain talent and remain an innovative, efficient economy.

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Our recent Roadside Emissions Taskforce Report seeks to provide clarity in the transport sector, conceptualising what a smart city would look like.

There is huge potential to improve the interface between people and infrastructure, which is what a smart city is all about. Air pollution, especially along roads in congested downtown areas, means there is a clear need for this.

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Last year, even though air quality improved vastly, pollution led to around 100,000 days in hospital and more than 1,500 premature deaths locally, according to the University of Hong Kong’s Hedley Environmental Index. With particulate levels more than twice World Health Organisation standards, and higher than in Singapore, Japan and Western Europe, much can still be done. Many ideas have come up: apps for parking, for following bus movements, etc.

Our report seeks to crystallise this thinking with a vision of a cleaner, low-carbon city and a pathway to get there, with smart technology and smart choices. The focus should be on how we use our infrastructure, rather than simply adding more roads, for example.

Smart technologies such as electronic road pricing can support better traffic management in congested areas such as Central. Enforcement of parking laws, plus alternatives for easy access to congested areas are vital, as are levies to reduce peak-time deliveries, thus optimising use of the harbour tunnels.

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Businesses can use technology and smart systems to supplement this action. Our report recommends logistics software systems to help route vehicles efficiently, and continued bus route rationalisation. Smart reward systems can encourage efficient driving. In the longer term, businesses can explore enhanced working practices to reduce peak-hour pressure.

Smart systems for infrastructure can also make a difference: from extending the use of bus lanes and introducing bus-priority junctions, to supporting the use of the MTR by making the final mile from station to home more attractive.

Multiple benefits in terms of health and ease of movement can be achieved through better walking and cycling facilities. We welcome these aspects of the policy address too, all part of a smart sustainable city.

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A smart city means smart choices for vehicles too, that is, making and supporting the right technological choice for buses, commercial vehicles and cars. New technologies and fuel types – from hybrids to electric vehicles, biodiesel and natural gas – offer opportunities to reduce air pollution and cut carbon emissions.

Business and government should work together to put in place a strong policy framework – incentives and regulations that give us the best results for the money – and setting ambitious longer-term objectives.

I hope this vision of a sustainable Hong Kong: healthy and liveable, on the path to a low-carbon economy, as well as efficient and innovative, will help shape our image of transport in the future.

Taking on board the unparalleled environmental challenges we face, as well as seeing the opportunities to enhance our quality of life, is central to becoming a smart city.

Adam Koo is chief executive officer at the Business Environment Council Ltd