Homes drive points the way to tackling Hong Kong traffic woes
After being criticised for linking car ownership with the housing crunch, the minister concerned would do well to tackle congestion and illegal parking
Transport and housing chief Frank Chan Fan was criticised for being out of touch when he linked car ownership with the housing crunch; and rightly so. We do not know whether he had evidence to say that “youngsters buy cars because they cannot afford flats”. But it was hardly a smart reply to whether a curb on new vehicle registrations would ease the shortage of parking spaces in the city.
We hope the minister did not make the connection just because the two portfolios happen to be under his purview. The truth is that the number of vehicles rose even when housing was much more affordable. Chan said youngsters who could not afford to buy a flat may still want some personal space, and owning a vehicle was therefore the way to “let the soul wander off once in a while”. But as far as tackling illegal parking and traffic congestion were concerned, a registration tax hike to dampen vehicle ownership would be the last resort, he added.
Chan may want to portray himself as understanding and sympathetic with the difficulties facing young people, but it would not be surprising if the public has the impression youngsters are to blame for traffic congestion and illegal parking.
Even if Chan is right about his claim, having a vehicle is no substitute for home ownership. Unlike some cities where driving is essential, our excellent public transport network makes car ownership more a symbol of wealth and status. Housing, on the other hand, has no alternative. That the government is exhausting different ways to boost flat supply underlines the problem.
Chan’s predecessor once joked that housing and transport were weighty enough to be split into two separate bureaus. We hope Chan, formerly in charge of the government’s electrical and mechanical services agency, can rise to the challenge. While there may be no quick fixes for housing, traffic congestion and the lack of parking spaces may be tackled by a raft of short and long-term measures, such as heavier fines for illegal parking and turning some lanes into overnight parking spaces. It would be good if transport problems are tackled with the same strong will and effort as shown in housing.