Growth of private cars in Hong Kong has increased bad air

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 February, 2016, 4:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 February, 2016, 4:50pm

I refer to Paul Serfaty’s letter (“Cars aren’t the major culprits of air pollution”, February 1).

It is unfortunate he misses the point that Clean Air Network (CAN) wants to raise.

It is true that the major contributors of particulate and nitrogen oxide emissions are diesel goods vehicles. In fact, CAN is one of the most adamant advocates of mandatory retirement of old commercial diesel vehicles.

In 2013, we mobilised medical practitioners, public health experts and school teachers to speak in Legco for those suffering from air pollution-related diseases, facilitating the passing of a long overdue bill. We will remain vigilant on this issue.

As I said in my letter (“Restricting car usage is the only effective way to cut air pollution in Hong Kong”, January 27), while this end-of-pipe solution did alleviate the situation, we need an integrated solution that prevents the environmental problem at source, that is, demand-led traffic management.

The government’s Public Transport Strategy Study said uncurbed growth of private cars was responsible for traffic congestion. Transport Department figures show private cars and taxis occupy 40 per cent of the road space respectively in Central during peak hours, trapping more polluting diesel commercial vehicles in long queues, leading to more polluted air.

Elsewhere in the world, there are measures to give disincentives to private car use.

Some cities have low-emission and car-free zones and pedestrian precincts, with a “people first” principle in planning strategies.

In contrast, Hong Kong has allowed private car growth in the past decade, leading to an uncontrollable increase to a record high of 540,000 in 2014, or 70 per cent of the total registered number of cars in the city. If it did not face a land problem the government would keep on building more roads.

Private cars idling on the street or chauffeurs roaming around to wait for their bosses exacerbatecongestion problems. Ordinary citizens and vulnerable groups such as street vendors have long suffered from inhaling toxic air. It should not be a lot to ask if our traffic policy can be less tilted towards cars but more to people.

CAN believes clean air is a basic right for the people of Hong Kong.

Our plea to citizens if they wish to contribute to the betterment of the whole of society is, “Drive less, walk more, and use public transport.”

Kwong Sum-yin, chief executive officer, Clean Air Network