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PST's speech at 8th Asia-Pacific ITS Forum & Exhibition

    Following is a speech (English only) delivered by the Permanent Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works (Transport), Mr Joshua Law, at the 8th Asia-Pacific ITS Forum and Exhibition this morning (July 10) at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre:

     Mr Wong, Mr Terajima, Mr Wang, honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here today at the Opening Ceremony of the 8th Asia-Pacific ITS Forum and Exhibition. First of all, let me extend my warmest welcome to experts and guests from all over the world. I hope you will enjoy your stay in Hong Kong.  

Let me begin with our transport policy. Although the great Indian leader and philosopher Mahatma Gandhi thought there was more to life than increasing its speed, I doubt many of you would disagree that speed is of great essence in this day and age. It is particularly so for cities like Hong Kong, where speed has become an integral part of our lifestyle. At times, it becomes almost an obsession. To most people, speed means efficiency, productivity, higher output and ultimately economic or monetary gains.
In formulating our transport policy, our vision is to maximise the mobility of people and goods in this city through the provision of the world's best transport system, which is efficient, safe, reliable, user-friendly and environmentally friendly. This has been achieved historically through three major means, namely, enhancing transport infrastructure, improving public transport and managing traffic flow and road use.

For centuries, the planning and delivery of public policies are based on the so-called "predict and provide" approach. In solving transport problems, this means to forecast and then match transport demand by providing sufficient road space and infrastructure. For Hong Kong, I am afraid that we can no longer rely on such a "magic formula". We simply cannot keep on building more and more roads. Given competing demands for resources and limited physical space, we need to find ways to make the best use of the capacity of our infrastructure and enhance the performance of the existing transport system.

To maximise the mobility of our people and goods, our strategy focuses on six key areas of work, represented by the 6 "Ms":

* Modern technologies in transport management;
* Maintenance of a safe and congestion-free traffic system;
* Mass carriers especially railways to serve as the backbone of our passenger transport system;
* Multiplicity of public transport services;
* Merging of the transport and land use planning processes; and
* Minimal hazards to the environment.  

This morning, I propose to focus on our efforts in promoting better use of modern technologies, particularly information technology, in the transport arena.

Technological developments have brought prevalent and far-reaching changes to different facets of our life. That's why Guy Almes suggests that there are three kinds of death in this world - heart death, brain death, and "net death", which is being off the network. In the transport domain, it is crucially important to be "on" the network.  

Through harnessing information and telecommunication technologies, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are designed to integrate people, roads and vehicles in a road traffic system. They will improve safety, efficiency and environmental friendliness through more efficient road use and relief of traffic congestion. They will also provide better traffic and transport information to enable different users of the road system to make more intelligent decisions for their journeys. With rapid advancement in the past decades, ITS applications are now widely used in developed countries and are becoming increasingly popular in developing economies.  

Indeed, ITS technology plays an important role in the pursuit of our policy objectives of maintaining a congestion-free traffic network, enhancing road safety, strengthening incident management, improving delivery of transport services and minimising hazards to the environment.

Now, I would like to share with you how we harness ITS to relieve congestion.  

Most drivers in Hong Kong should be familiar with our Journey Time Indication System, which came into operation since 2003. Before going into details, let me give you a brief idea of our geography. Our city comprises three major parts - Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. Hong Kong Island is physically separated from the other two parts, but linked to them by three cross-harbour tunnels. The Journey Time Indication System is designed to advise motorists of the estimated journey time for travelling from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon through the three tunnels. This system operates through tracking the positions and speeds of a fleet of buses equipped with the Global Positioning System, supplemented by the general traffic speed captured by cameras at strategic locations. Digital journey time indicators are installed at major trunk roads on the Hong Kong Island to allow motorists to make an informed choice on which tunnel to use based on the latest traffic situation. A recent survey shows that some two-thirds of the respondents consider that the Journey Time Indication System has been very useful in helping them decide on the cross-harbour route. The speed of cross-harbour traffic has in general improved by 4%.

Apart from the digital indicators at strategic locations, the journey times displayed on the indicators are now uploaded onto the Transport Department internet website, so that commuters can better plan their routes before embarking on the journey. We are planning to expand the Journey Time Indication System to the Kowloon side to provide more traffic information to commuters.

We also seek to maintain good traffic flow in our road network by utilising ITS in our traffic management framework. The major systems employed are the area traffic control systems and the traffic control and surveillance systems on strategic roads.

We installed our first computerised area traffic control system in the 1970s. By now, such systems cover some 75% of the territory. They enable us to control and operate the traffic lights having regard to changes in the traffic conditions, thereby maximising the use of road capacities and reducing journey time, delays and number of stops. We hope that by the end of 2008, over 90% of the signalised road junctions in Hong Kong will be covered by such systems.

In addition, we have installed traffic control and surveillance systems on strategic roads to monitor traffic conditions, detect traffic incidents, provide motorists with important traffic information and divert traffic to improve traffic management. More advanced systems will be provided under new major road projects. We plan to install comprehensive traffic control and surveillance systems on all the major expressways.

One key component of these traffic control and surveillance systems is the closed-circuit television. We have some 600 CCTVs which serve as the "eyes" to help us monitor the traffic conditions on the road network, verify incidents, coordinate recovery actions and formulate contingency measures. To enhance the coverage of our CCTV system, we have recently identified major "blind spots" along key trunk roads and routes frequented by public transport.  We plan to install over 200 CCTVs in the coming years. As a contingency measure, we have also deployed mobile CCTVs to enhance information collection during traffic incidents and to expedite recovery action.

Moreover, about 100 of the traffic images captured by these CCTV cameras are uploaded onto the Internet and provided to television stations for free access by road users. This service is very popular, receiving an average daily hit rate of over 170,000. The CCTV images facilitate pre-trip planning and better utilisation of our road network. We are also discussing with mobile network operators the feasibility of disseminating some of these CCTV images to mobile phone users.

Application of modern technology is also one of the major components in our package of measures to enhance road safety.  

I am sure all of you would agree that red light jumping is a dangerous driving behaviour that can bring about grave consequences. In Hong Kong, red light jumping kills and injures some 600 persons each year. To combat red light jumping, we have installed red light camera housings at over 111 signalised road junctions. This will go up to 131 in another three months' time. We have installed 57 cameras at these housings, and another 39 cameras will be installed in the coming three months, thus making a total of 96 red light cameras. This represents a ratio of 1 to 1.4. To the best of my knowledge, this ratio is probably one of the highest camera-to-housings ratios in the world. In fact, Hong Kong is one of the few cities that has such a large number of red light cameras in operation.

Speeding is another major cause of serious road accidents. It prevents drivers from reacting to hazardous situations in time and increases the severity of the impact in a collision. We rely heavily on modern technologies to carry out law enforcement actions against speeding. For instance, we have installed speed enforcement camera housings on major roads and expressways. Our police also use advanced in-car video systems and laser guns to carry out "mobile" enforcement actions against speeding in different locations. Each year, with the help of these advanced technologies, some 200,000 penalty tickets are issued to speeding motorists.  

Now, let me turn to incident management. Hong Kong's busy and compact road network makes handling of emergencies with traffic impact highly challenging. Rapid response is of paramount importance in reducing the build-up of a gridlock, especially when unforeseen incidents occur on major inter-connected routes within short interval.  

Last May, the inclement weather brought about a number of emergency events affecting traffic throughout Hong Kong. Three of them that occurred within five minutes along the main nearby arteries in the urban city centre resulted in serious traffic congestion and delays for tens of thousands of commuters. We saw our own inadequacies in handling such incidents. A Task Force was appointed to recommend measures to enhance emergency transport coordination. The Task Force was chaired by Ms Teresa Cheng, and many of its recommendations are related to the use of modern technologies to strengthen our capability in handling emergency incidents and disseminating information.  

We have actively implemented many of the recommendations. We have improved the facilities and introduced new features in the Transport Department's Emergency Transport Coordination Centre, which is the "war room" for devising strategies and coordinating actions in handling traffic emergencies. For instance, we are now using digital "incident maps" to collate information from different sources to assess the severity and spread of congestion. We have also put in place a web-based incident management communication system to enhance the communication and coordination amongst relevant Government departments.  

To provide timely emergency information to the public, we have improved the design of the Transport Department's homepage and commissioned the PDA version of the homepage to make it easier for the public to check the latest traffic conditions and special traffic news. All these improved features have proven to be effective in providing speedy response to traffic incidents during not only emergencies, but also major events like the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization that was successfully held in Hong Kong in December last year.

Our work continues. We have plans to install more variable message signs at strategic locations, and explore the feasibility of using mobile variable message signs. In the longer term, we are exploring the use of more sophisticated systems to strengthen our incident management capabilities and inter-departmental emergency coordination. The technologies that we are examining include computer-aided dispatch systems for logging the conditions of the incident and the status of equipment and manpower dispatch; expert-system-based incident management system for monitoring incidents and selecting pre-programmed diversion plans; and automatic incident detection technologies for detecting incidents effectively.  

Apart from traffic and incident management, information technology has also enriched the travelling experience of the commuting public. A very good example is the smartcard technology, which has brought unprecedented convenience to the public. The Octopus card developed by a consortium of our key public transport operators in 1997 has led to a whole new trend of cashless transaction in Hong Kong, starting from the transport arena. Today, over 13 million Octopus cards are in circulation and the number is still growing. With one single Octopus Card, we can travel on all forms of public transport: buses, trains, ferries and starting from June this year, on selected taxis under a trial scheme. We can also settle parking fees and transact at supermarkets, convenient stores, shops and eateries. Many countries are catching on to this technology and we look forward to seeing our Octopus cards appearing in the Netherlands and many places to come.

Another example is the automatic toll collection system. For the tunnel/bridge operators, autotoll is a very efficient tolling system that saves manpower and cost. From the traffic point of view, autotoll can reduce the time of a vehicle in paying toll and enhance the traffic flow. Currently, half of the some 650,000 trips at tolled roads and tunnels each day are already using autotoll. We will continue to explore with the service provider ways to enhance its utilisation and functions so as to bring more benefits to the commuters.  

In addition, Hong Kong has been employing GPS technology in vehicle security and tracking since the 1990s. Local companies have developed car navigation and fleet management systems using this technology. The major franchised bus operators are also carrying out trials to test the applicability and reliability of GPS in vehicle tracking, data transmission, and dissemination of information on vehicles at bus stops.

Within the Government, apart from the Journey Time Indication System that I mentioned earlier, the Police and Fire Services Department have adopted GPS in their latest deployment systems. In addition, we are developing the Transport Information System, which is a centralised data warehouse for the collection, processing and dissemination of comprehensive transport information. The Intelligent Road Network developed under this System will provide up-to-date information on traffic directions, turning movements at road junctions and stopping restrictions, etc. Upon the completion of the Intelligent Road Network, service providers in the private sector, including telecommunication companies, fleet and freight operators, logistic and IT organisations, can make use of the information to develop value-added applications and personalised information services to the public. With our vibrant private sector, we believe that many innovative and imaginative services will be made available.

Ladies and gentlemen, ITS development relies on the active participation of all parties. While we will continue to play our part, we would be more than happy to see the transport sector deploying ITS technologies, academic institutions making headway in the research and development of enabling technologies, and industries producing innovative products.

Being the gateway to the Pearl River Delta, which is one of the fastest growing economic regions in China, it is important for Hong Kong to maximise the mobility of our people and goods in a smooth and efficient manner. As leaders and experts in your field, your participation in the Forum will contribute to useful discussions to realise our common goal of building a more intelligent transport system.

I would like to thank ITS-Hong Kong for organising this Forum, and I wish all of you very fruitful exchanges regarding the latest technologies and applications. And to our guests from overseas, I wish you an enjoyable stay in Hong Kong.

Thank you very much.

Ends/Monday, July 10, 2006
Issued at HKT 16:02