Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (November 21):
The yearly number of days on which the Air Pollution Index exceeded 100 (ie air pollution reaching a "very high" level) as recorded by the roadside air quality monitoring stations of the Environmental Protection Department had increased continuously in the past seven years. The Secretary for the Environment indicated earlier that in order to address this problem, the authorities would examine the phasing out of old diesel commercial goods vehicles, including making reference to the practices on the Mainland and places outside Hong Kong of not renewing the licences of diesel goods vehicles which had reached 15 years of age. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of a breakdown of the current number of commercial vehicles by vehicle class (including light, medium and heavy goods vehicles, public and private light buses, non-franchised buses as well as franchised buses) and the emission standard (ie pre-Euro, Euro I, Euro II, Euro III, Euro IV or above) with which they comply, and among such vehicles, the numbers of those which are 15 years old or above;
(b) of the number of applications received by the authorities since the introduction of the incentive schemes in 2007 from owners of diesel commercial vehicles to switch to more environment-friendly commercial vehicles, as well as the total amount of grant approved; of the classes of vehicles in respect of which the numbers of applications are relatively smaller, and whether they have assessed the reasons for that; how the authorities assess the effectiveness of these incentive schemes; and
(c) apart from considering the aforesaid measure of not renewing vehicle licences, whether the authorities will consider providing greater incentives (including extending the implementation period of the above-mentioned incentive schemes, increasing the amount of grant, providing low-interest loans or exempting the vehicle first registration tax, etc.), so as to encourage the trade to switch to more environment-friendly commercial vehicles; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
My reply to the Hon Chan Hak-kan's question is as follows:
(a) As at end June 2012, there were a total of 127,100 licensed diesel commercial vehicles. They include light, medium and heavy goods vehicles, public and private light buses, non-franchised and franchised buses, of which 36,800 are aged 15 years or above. A breakdown of these vehicles by categories and emission standards, i.e. pre-Euro, Euro I, Euro II, Euro III, Euro IV or above, is in Table 1.
(b) The Government launched two incentive schemes in 2007 and 2010 to encourage vehicle owners to replace their pre-Euro and Euro I and Euro II diesel commercial vehicles respectively with new commercial vehicles. The incentive scheme for pre-Euro and Euro I vehicles was concluded in end March 2010. A total of 17,103 applications were approved by the Government, involving a grant of about $770 million. About 29% of the eligible vehicles participated in the scheme. The participation rates of light goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles, at 25% and 24% respectively which were about a quarter, were below the overall rate.
The incentive scheme for Euro II diesel commercial vehicles was launched in July 2010 and will conclude in end June 2013. As at October 2012, a total of 3,956 applications were approved, involving a grant of about $340 million. Among the vehicles eligible for the incentive scheme, the participation rates of diesel light buses, light goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles were 5%, 11% and 12% respectively which are comparatively low. Participation in the vehicle replacement incentive scheme is voluntary, and whether vehicle owners replace their vehicles or not is purely their commercial and personal decision. According to some trade members, the uncertain outlook of the transport business discourages vehicle owners to replace their vehicles. Details of these two incentives schemes by vehicle categories are in Table 2 and 3.
(c) The low participation rates of the two voluntary schemes underscore the need for a better policy with both incentives and regulatory measures approach to expedite effectively the replacement of heavily polluting vehicles. As for incentives, there is a suggestion of increasing the subsidy level to encourage the early replacement of these old vehicles, and some transport trade members suggest the provision of financial incentives to encourage vehicle owners to scrap their heavily polluting commercial vehicles and the provision of different concessions to retire old vehicles as early as possible. We will carefully consider the trades' suggestions, having regard to their implications for public finance, the polluter pays principle and their effectiveness in the early improvement of roadside air quality. Overall, we wish to prioritise the health of the public.
As for regulatory measures, we proposed to increase the licence fee of old diesel commercial vehicles at the meetings of the Legislative Council's Panel on Environmental Affairs and its Subcommittee on Improving Air Quality in November 2008 and March 2010 respectively. The proposal was not supported but it remains an option or a direction for consideration. Moreover, we understand that measures are implemented elsewhere to limit the service year of heavily polluting vehicles. For example, New York will tighten the age limit for taxis from six years to five years in 2015; London has recently stipulated that the age limit for taxis is 15 years; the Mainland requires goods vehicles not to exceed 15 years in age; and Singapore sets the maximum life span of coaches and goods vehicles at 20 years. We are looking into various options and studying which of them are appropriate and applicable to Hong Kong. We will communicate with transport trades and relevant stakeholders all along in order to formulate a policy that fits the environment of Hong Kong.
Ends/Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Issued at HKT 17:29