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S for T: "Supporting Sustainability and the Future Development of Hong Kong"


Following is the speech by the Acting Secretary for Transport, Mr Paul Tang, delivered at the Conference on EnviroSeries 2002: Sustainable Transport organized by the Business Environment Council this morning (June 18):

"Supporting Sustainability and the Future Development of Hong Kong"

Mr Thomson, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Business Environment Council for inviting me to deliver the keynote speech for this Enviro Series on "Sustainable Transport". Indeed, it is our policy objective to develop a transport system which not only meets the demand of today, but also caters for the future interest of our society.

I also notice that the topic you have set for me, that is, "Supporting sustainability and the future development of Hong Kong" is in fact a quote from Government's existing transport policy statement. The prime objective of our transport system is to facilitate mobility and support social and economic development. It is worth noting that the population in Hong Kong has increased from 2.2 million to 6.8 million in the past 50 years, and our GDP by 13.5 times in the past 40 years. The sheer number of people plus the phenomenal level of economic activities, all in the context of some 300 odd sq. kilometers of usable land, have exerted enormous pressure on the transport system. In spite of all these, I believe that we have maintained an orderly, efficient, safe and reliable transport system, with public transport as the backbone. Some of the benchmarks may illustrate the above :-

* about 90% of the passenger trips are made on public transport (i.e. 90% of the 11 million daily passenger trips);

* our car ownership per 1000 people is only 78 (lower than Singapore (over 200); Macau (more than 250); Japan (more than 400));

* our railway lines do not rely on Government's recurrent subsidy and are commercially viable;

* other public transport services like buses are run by the private sector with no Government subsidy;

* very low fatality rate caused by traffic accidents compared to other major cities/countries in the world (lower than Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan).

Looking ahead, we face two main challenges. First, population increase. According to the projection recently released by Census and Statistical Department, the increase will be at an average annual rate of 0.9%, from 6.7 million in mid-2001 to 8.7 million in mid-2031. In other words, we would need to accommodate yet another 2 million people in 30 years' time. The implications on the transport infrastructure and facilities should not be underestimated.

Second, increase in cross-boundary travel. With the growing integration between Hong Kong and Mainland, there is every reason to believe that the increase in passenger and vehicular cross-boundary movements we witnessed during the past decade will continue. We are now handling on average 310,000 passengers and 31,000 vehicles across the boundary per day. In a recent published survey by Planning Department on cross boundary travel, there was an increase of 34.7% in the number of frequent commuters who usually travel at least once a week between Hong Kong and Mainland. In terms of vehicular trips, the proportion of private cars also increased considerably from 11% in 1999 to 16.5% in 2001. The message is clear : the socio-economic ties with the Mainland must be catered for in transport planning to ensure our competitiveness.

Sustainable Transport

To meet the above challenges, the New Transport Strategy we drew up 2 years ago would continue to serve as a guiding light. I now attempt to briefly explain its five major elements :

* Better integration of transport and land use planning;

* Better use of railway as the backbone of our passenger transport system;

* Better public transport services and facilities;

* Better use of advanced technologies in transport management;

* Better environmental protection;

and take this opportunity to dispel some misconceptions about our transport strategy.

Better integration of transport & land use planning

The proverb "prevention is better than cure" best embodies the rationale for the first element - better integration of land use and transport planning. It is simply not true that planning of transport infrastructure is taken up separately from the overall land use planning. To the contrary, planning of transport infrastructure aims to dovetail land use planning. We do not build for the sake of building and transport infrastructure must serve some planning objectives. A case in point is the HK 2030 Study led by the Planning Department which will look into the need for and timing of new cross-boundary transport links and we take an active part in that.

We will also incorporate concepts such as pedestrianization, comprehensive pedestrian walkway system and possible use of environmentally friendly transport modes into the planning process. Another example of us putting this into practice is in the planning of the South East Kowloon Development which will be served by rail and an environmentally friendly shuttle and we have already invited public transport operators to let us have their ideas on this shuttle. While road transport will still be allowed within the development, we have managed to put sections of three main roads in tunnel to minimise their environmental impact. It is estimated that 35% of the total traffic flow would be in tunnel.

Better Use of Rail

We have identified rail, the most efficient and environmentally friendly mass carrier, as the backbone of our transport system. Starting from this year, there will be a rail coming into operation almost every year - the Tseung Kwan O Extension in August this year, the West Rail in 2003, the Ma On Shan Rail and the Tsim Sha Tsim Extension in 2004, the Penny's Bay Rail Link in 2005 and the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line in 2007. Another six rails are recommended to be completed in 2008-2016. These include the Shatin to Central Link, Island Line Extensions, Kowloon Southern Link, Regional Express Line which will become part of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-HK Express Rail, Northern Link, and Port Rail Line. With the completion of the twelve rails, the population catchment of the rail will be as high as 70% as compared with 50% at the moment. By comparison, we have only 0.28 km of road per 1000 people which is lower than Macau (0.73), or Singapore (0.95). The projects I have mentioned involve a total investment of above $200 billion compared with, say the total cost of $158 billion of the Airport Core Programme. The suggestion that we are not serious about our rail-based strategy and that we are biased towards roads is simply untrue if you look at the figures above.

It is common sense that however much we invest in railways, they can never completely replace roads. One-third of our vehicle kilometrage relates to delivery of goods and services including emergency service. Goods movement on rail is in fact very insignificant. Besides, roads have an important role in serving areas inaccessible by railways. Bearing in mind the dense developments and topography of Hong Kong, roads will remain a necessity. Nevertheless, great care is now put in drawing up the alignments of new roads and we conduct annual reviews on the need, scope and timing of strategic roads under planning. Noise barriers, depressed roads or tunnels are measures considered early in the planning process to minimize the environmental impact of such projects. Some people may cite Route 10 and Route 7 as examples of our bias towards roads but these are projects with clear strategic value. Route 10 together with the Shenzhen Western Corridor/Deep Bay Link forms part of the North West New Territories strategic road system and a second link to Lantau Island. Route 7, which is under review, facilitates linkage between the southern part and western part of HK Island. A point which is often overlooked is that without adequate road infrastructure, congestion would occur which would affect economic activities and the environment.

Better Co-ordination

Apart from promoting the use of the railway in our planning, we also actively promote the use of other public transport services, and their integration with the railway system. With the ambitious rail expansion scheme, there is a constant need to review our public transport network to ensure that the various modes of transport are well coordinated to operate in an efficient manner, enhancing use of railways on the one hand, and maintaining a reasonable range of choices to passengers. But it is simply not practical to expect that rail service will completely replace bus services. I do not think the community is prepared to accept this. This is a balancing act which, like all balancing acts, may never totally satisfy advocates on either side. Take Tseung Kwan O as an example. When the TKE is opened later this year, it will more than double the capacity of the external public transport services for Tseung Kwan O. It will offer convenient, fast, frequent and reliable services to Tseung Kwan O residents, about 80% of whom will be within walking distance to the railway stations. There will be substantial changes to the travel pattern of passengers, many of whom are expected to use the new railway. We are now undergoing an intensive consultation process to draw up a public transport service plan for the area. There will be changes to road-based public transport services including frequency adjustment, route modification or cancellation of services which duplicate with the TKE, whilst at the same time feeder services to the rail stations will be enhanced. It has not been a straightforward exercise and we have found it necessary to refine our proposals to address the concerns of the local community. The balancing act is never easy, but we will not shy away from it.

Better use of technologies

On better use of advanced technologies, we have developed a comprehensive Intelligent Transport System (ITS) strategy which comprises two main elements - the Transport Information System (TIS) which provides a central database for easy and efficient access by Government departments, transport operators and the public; and a Traffic Management Framework (TMF) which puts all existing traffic control functions under a coordinated central command.

The TIS, targeted for implementation from 2003, would provide the public with reliable, accurate and timely traffic information via variable message signs on roads, radio and television, and TD's website free for charge. Traffic information will be made available to Government agencies for the planning and management of their transport-related operators, which would result in more efficient traffic regulation and better co-ordination.

With more effective and efficient transport management, road capacity would increase, travelling time saved and road safety enhanced. In addition, there will be benefits on the environment from savings in fuel consumption and reduction in vehicle emission and improvement in public health overall.

Better Environmental Protection

You will have noted that the preceding four "betters" all contribute directly or indirectly to sustainability. By proper planning and the use of railway as the backbone, by promoting walking, and by maintaining a high public transport usage rate, we stand a definite chance of enhancing the quality of the environment. Under the last item - better environment, we stand to focus on areas where further enhancement can be made. A lot of efforts have been devoted to making road-based public transport more environmentally friendly. For example, over 80% of the taxi fleet has already converted to LPG, and all new taxis registered from January 2001 onwards run on LPG. Our whole franchised bus fleet has switched to the use of Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel since February 2001, and all buses with pre-Euro engine have been retrofitted with diesel catalysts. With the introduction of environmentally friendly devices and fuel, we would expect the bus fleet to gradually get rid of its image as a polluting culprit.

There has been call for Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) technology to meet environmental objectives. While we do not dismiss this in the long term, there is no need to pursue at this stage given the present growth of car ownership of 3% a year. Also, the environmental benefit of ERP is mainly on roadside air quality only. It has no significant impact on the wider ambient air pollution problem.

Financing of Rail vs. Financing of Road-based public transport

Some people have said that Government has been treating rail and road transport unfairly, subsidizing the latter by road construction but doing nothing for the former. To me, both allegations are wrong. First, it is wrong to say that Government builds roads to subside road-based public transport. As I mentioned before roads are not monopolized by public transport. It is used by private cars, school buses, freight vehicles, emergency vehicles, to name but a few. It is the Government's duty to provide this necessary infrastructure for the general public. Secondly, it is wrong to say that we have not contributed to railway construction. The present practice is to allow, where appropriate, the railway corporations to develop property on rail stations and depots. This is a significant form of assistance. Equity injection is another option. Government will also continue to pay for ancillary public works items required to support railway development. It remains our policy not to give direct Government subsidy to operate railways. This policy has served us well in the past. There is no reason to move away from a tried and successful formula. Subsidizing daily operation will be a drain on public resources and offers little incentive for improving services. The trend is towards reducing Government subsidy for the operation of public transport. I do not see any reason to turn back the clock.


So ladies and gentlemen, I have set out how Government sees the "5 betters" as the means by which to build a sustainable transport system in Hong Kong. Our greatest challenge, though, is to encourage citizens to come up with their own versions of "Betters" in their transport plan. To take rail as their priority; to forsake through-trip door-to-door car ride in favor of park-and-ride; to switch to environmental-friendly fuel; to walk instead of drive for short distances; and to factor in the environmental dimension in planning for their trips. This requires a change in mindset. In this respect, the effort made by the Business Environment Council in promoting the concept of sustainability over the past years is greatly appreciated. I wish you every success with your Conference today.

Thank you.

End/Tuesday, June 18, 2002


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