DRIVING CHANGE ON OUR ROADS
“Exposure at the roadside is where we have the most serious daily health risk from air pollution,” says Loh. Old engines and heavy traffic pump emissions into narrow streets flanked by tall buildings that limit ventilation, concentrating a toxic mix that pedestrians can’t avoid inhaling. Any meaningful clean-up must therefore start on the street. This is where the government has largely focused its efforts in the past year, pushing through schemes that mandate the gradual removal of the dirtiest vehicles, fund the fitting of pollution-reduction devices to old engines, and encourage the purchase and trial of electric and hybrid vehicles.
Starting this year, the government has committed HK$12 billion to subsidise the removal of 82,000 diesel commercial vehicles from our roads by 2020. “It’s the biggest scheme of its kind in the world,” says Loh. The dirtiest goods vehicles, minibuses and non-franchised buses (known as pre-euro), and Euro I, II and III will be progressively phased out, with the oldest set to be outlawed from January 2016. Diesel commercial vehicles registered after February 1 this year now also have a 15-year limit on their service lives— an unprecedented move for Hong Kong, which has never previously imposed a limit.
The liquified petroleum gas (LPG) used in many of the city’s taxis and minibuses is a cleaner fuel than petrol, but only if the vehicle’s catalytic converter, which transforms pollutants in the exhaust into less toxic substances through a chemical reaction, has not reached the end of its working life. If it has, emissions are high. Since October last year the government has spent HK$180 million subsidising the replacement of old converters. Now it is installing cameras and infared/ultraviolet sensors across the city to catch vehicles with inoperative converters. Owners who fail to repair faulty devices will have their vehicle’s licence revoked.