Rising car numbers undermine efforts to cut roadside pollution in Hong Kong
One of the three tenets of the government’s “Hong Kong 2030 Plus” planning vision and strategy – stated as being a “blueprint for the long-term sustainable development of Hong Kong” – is to enhance liveability in our high-density compact city.
Two not unconnected means of achieving this are to reduce vehicular traffic with a commensurate mitigation of air pollution, and to improve the pedestrian environment – along with its connective framework – within the urban area.
However, there appears to be a serious disconnect between stated policy and what is happening on the ground. The unprecedented increase in private vehicle licences, by some 30 per cent over the past 10 years, has led to an additional 160,000 vehicles on our roads, now adding up to 746,000 and leaving in their wake a residue of pedestrian discomfort and air pollution that massively exceeds World Health Organisation standards.
On top of that we have, unsurprisingly, the induced increase in illegal parking and traffic congestion, and still no sign of a road pricing scheme. That a Legislative Council subcommittee can throw out a belated proposal to impose higher penalties for illegal parking because the government has not resolved the accumulated parking problem of its own making, says much about the lack of coordinated thinking.
Hong Kong is, therefore, faced with having to construct more urban area parking spaces, which is just about the last thing called for under a liveability agenda.
By way of contrast, Singapore – which has almost 100,000 fewer road vehicles than Hong Kong – has announced a moratorium on the growth of its car population from 2018, while introducing a trial of driverless taxis.
Advances in technology have led China to recently announce that, within 12 years, all vehicles will embody at least some automated features, and the country has already produced a timetable to halt the production of polluting vehicles.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, appears to have its metaphoric head in the sand. The Ombudsman has rightly questioned how the government is going to reach its own preset goal of achieving 30 per cent battery-powered private vehicles by 2020 from less than 2 per cent today, when even the tax break that was intended to encourage their use has not been extended.
Isn’t it about time that we in Hong Kong stopped theorising about sustainable objectives and started trying seriously to achieve them?
Peter Cookson Smith, Mid-Levels