The government’s failure to raisetraining standards for emissions-related repair and inspection works could put the city on course for dirtier air, according to a think tank. Civic Exchange pointed to a widening gap between increasing road vehicle numbers and technology and declining manpower and technical skill in the industry. The number of registered vehicles in the city has nearly tripled in the last 30 years, from 250,000 in 1978 to 730,000 last year. But the total number of mechanics has grown by just 6.1 per cent in the same period. There are currently 13,000 car mechanics and 2,700 garages in Hong Kong. READ MORE: Drivers choking on red tape from separate emissions tests “The government has put a lot of effort into tailpipe solutions, but if they neglect the component of proper maintenance, the consequences could be severe,” said Civic Exchange chief research officer Simon Ng Ka-wing. “It would be like pouring the money they’ve spent improving air quality into the sea,” he said. It would be like pouring the money they’ve spent improving air quality into the sea. Chief research officer Simon Ng Ka-wing In 1999, the Environmental Protection Department itself said poor maintenance of petrol and LPG vehicles could possibly lead to four times more roadside emissions. The lack of fresh blood has added to this problem, with more youngsters reluctant to do what is perceived as greasy, back-breaking labour with limited career progression or recognition. The average monthly salary for a new apprentice can be as low as HK$6,000. “The average car mechanic is close to retirement age, and many just don’t have the skills to keep up with newer and more advanced vehicles, which mostly involve computerised systems,” said researcher Sunny Lam, one of the report’s authors. “It was also found that many don’t know the latest emissions standards,” he added. Such concerns were already reflected in a report by the Ombudsman last month, which grilled the environmental protection and transport departments for their lack of support for mechanics, many of whom are ill-prepared to handle the plethora of new emissions standards and testing requirements. READ MORE: Government departments ‘failed to coordinate’ on emissions rules – despite more than a decade to prepare The report stressed there was an “urgent need” to revise the city’s continuing professional training system and to strengthen professional standards and recognition. This would start with a territory- wide mandatory registration scheme for car mechanics. A volunteer scheme has been in place since 2012, but the participation rate has fallen from 90 per cent to just 70 per cent last June. Lam also urged educators to review and update the courses and training occasionally to satisfy market needs and the latest emission requirements. The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department is conducting a study on the feasibility of a mandatory registration scheme for both mechanics and maintenance workshops to further enhance service standards of the trade. Results are expected at the end of this year. While most new cars come with minimum five-year warrantees, owners of older cars must choose whether to take their vehicle back to the dealer for a more costly fix, or to a regular garage, which often lacks the skills to deal with non-mechanical issues. Many prefer to just trade in their cars on the secondhand market. READ MORE: Hong Kong ideally placed to power ahead with electric cars Vehicle Repair Merchants Association chairman Raymond Yeung Ka-wo agreed that it was getting harder to hire people but allayed concerns that Hong Kong mechanics were “less skilled” at fixing newer cars. Yeung pointed to the reluctance of the government to require that car manufacturers share software, data and information on maintenance openly. “We hope the government can do something about it,” he said. “Europe and US markets already require manufacturers to share this information,” he added. Transport sector lawmaker Frankie Yik Chi-ming, who has been lobbying for such legislation, pointed to another longer-term problem: the lack of space for garages as more old districts are redeveloped. His proposal was for the government to transform industrial buildings into multi-storey “auto repair cities”. The environmental protection and transport departments said they would continue to strengthen cooperation with one another as well as improve communication with the maintenance and testing trade.