Official indecision on electric vehicles has Hong Kong on the wrong road

Almost 10 years after the government announced a policy objective of making Hong Kong on one of the cities in Asia where electric vehicles were widely used, the city is not only nowhere near the goal, it is not even clear on where it is heading

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 February, 2018, 1:11am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

When the government announced a policy objective in 2009 to make Hong Kong one of the cities in Asia where electric vehicles were widely used, hopes were high that it would result in fewer polluting vehicles and cleaner air. Almost 10 years have passed but the situation still leaves much to be desired. It seems that officials are no longer in the front seat to drive the much-needed policy change. Not only are we nowhere near our goal, we are not even clear on where we are going.

If the policy had been seriously implemented, there would be more than just 10,000-odd electric vehicles on our roads today. Although that number is a staggering 150 times more than that of seven years ago, it accounts for just under 2 per cent of the city’s private vehicles. This pales into insignificance when the number of petrol and diesel vehicles has expanded from 400,000 to 600,000 over the past decade.

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The way forward became even more unclear following the withdrawal in last year’s budget of a first registration tax waiver for private electric vehicles. This was reflected in the drop in sales of a popular electric vehicle brand from a monthly average of 230 in 2016 to a total of just 32 vehicles between April and December last year. Whether Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po offers more initiatives in his second budget on Wednesday will be closely followed by the public.

Leading electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla reportedly said it might scale down its operations in the city if the government decided not to provide further policy support. We trust the government will carefully weigh all policy options. If there are any new measures, they should be in the interest of the city and the public rather than that of the industry or individual companies.

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Officials need to be reminded that they only have two more years to make good the target of having 30 per cent of the city’s vehicles electric or hybrid and equipping 30 per cent of private car parking spaces in new buildings with recharging facilities. The likely shortfall prompted the Ombudsman to initiate an investigation last year.

The government’s long-term vision on this front is regrettably anything but clear. Officials are still tiptoeing around the question of whether to impose a total ban on petrol and diesel vehicles, despite being repeatedly pressed for a clear answer in light of similar decisions by some countries.

The indecisiveness does not reinforce confidence in the government’s commitment of turning Hong Kong into a green city. Unless there is stronger political will and a clearer road map on the way forward, the policy to make us a showpiece in the use of electric vehicles risks becoming a total failure.