Speech by Commissioner for Transport at Seminar on Environmentally Friendly Transport System



     Following is a speech by the Commissioner for Transport, Mr Joseph Lai, at the Seminar on Environmentally Friendly Transport System today (June 5):

Chairman Ma, Professor Wong, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     First of all, let me say how honoured and pleased I am to have been invited by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation to this distinguished gathering this morning.

     The theme of this seminar is "Environmentally Friendly Transport System".  It is, in fact, part of the Transport Department's vision "to provide the world's best transport system which is safe, reliable, efficient, environmentally friendly and satisfying to both users and operators".  Therefore, I had absolutely no hesitation to accept the invitation to speak at the seminar when I was approached by Professor Wong.

     I understand that we have here with us a number of very experienced and successful practitioners, consultants and academics who will be presenting to you the experience and latest development of environmentally friendly transport systems adopted in other parts of the world, and how such systems might apply to Hong Kong.  So, by way of putting today's seminar in context, I would like to set out the transport policy and strategy in Hong Kong.  I would also like to share with you our efforts in the past years and our way forward in pursuit of an environmentally friendly transport system.

     Hong Kong has grown and developed in leaps and bounds in all sorts of ways in the past few decades.  Today, Hong Kong has a population of nearly seven million.  It is a major international trading, financial and logistics centre.  Transport is of vital importance to our economic activities and social life.  To cater for the transport demand and to foster the continuous development of Hong Kong, we need to maintain a sustainable transport system that is safe, reliable, efficient and last but not least environmentally friendly.   During the past years, we have witnessed a lot of changes in our traffic and transport system, with some notable successes.

     Hong Kong has a highly efficient multi-modal public transport system.  The daily patronage of all means of public transport exceeds 11 million passenger trips, which represents about 90% of the daily total number of commuters.  That means for every 10 people go out, nine of them rely on public transport. These figures underline the importance of maintaining a sustainable transport system.

     Following the global trend, one could expect the passionate discussions within the community on sustainable development to have a significant and possibly far-reaching impact on the future development of the Hong Kong transport system.   To meet this challenge, the Government's Transport Strategy will continue to serve as our guiding light.  The strategy has five major guiding principles:

- Better integration of transport and land use planning;
- Better use of railways as the backbone of our passenger transport system;
- Better public transport services and facilities;
- Better use of advanced technologies in transport management; and
- Better environmental protection.

     Let me explain briefly how these principles would help us achieve sustainability in our transport system.

     The proverb "prevention is better than cure" best embodies the rationale for the first principle -- better integration of transport and land use planning.  Under this principle, intensive commercial and residential developments are located within easy reach of rail stations or major public transport interchange.  The aim is to reduce the public's reliance on road-based transport, particularly private vehicles.  According to the Railway Development Strategy 2000, the implementation of the recommended Railway Network would place 70% of the population and about 80% of job opportunities within one km of a railway station.  This will enhance accessibility considerably and, in turn, lessen the impact on the environment.

     We will continue to place emphasis on the needs of pedestrians and cyclists in transport and land use planning.  The provision of better pedestrian and cycling facilities, where feasible, can reduce the number of short distance motorised trips, enhance road safety, and improve local air quality.

     Despite these initiatives, increases in population and economic activities will unavoidably place additional demands on existing and future transport systems.  This makes it vitally important to provide new systems, and to improve existing infrastructure, in a timely manner. We regularly review the need, the scope and the timing of new road and rail projects to ensure they dovetail with future socio-economic growth.

     We have identified rail, the most efficient and environmentally friendly mass carrier, as the backbone of our transport system.  In the last decade, we had seen seven new railway lines and extensions coming into operation.  This has led to significant increase in the overall capacity of both the internal and external public transport services in the New Territories and new towns.  Five new rail links serving the urban areas and crossing the boundary (including the West Island Line, the South Island Line, the Kwun Tong Line Extension, the Shatin to Central Link and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link) are under planning and construction.  They are due for completion between 2014 and 2020.  The Government's target is to increase the railway share of the total public transport market from 36% in 2009 to 43% after completion of these new railways.

     Let's me say briefly the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL).  By the time the XRL gets into operation in 2015, it will provide daily rail service from the heart of Kowloon to Shibi in Guangzhou where it will link up with the national express rail network and reach all major cities in the Mainland.  The travelling time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou will be reduced significantly from about 100 to 48 minutes, while the travelling time between Hong Kong and Futian in Shenzhen will be shortened to about 14 minutes.  More Mainland cities and regions will be embraced in the daily living area of Hong Kong residents, and vice versa.  We do need this railway for the sustainable development of Hong Kong.

     Apart from promoting the use of the railways in our planning, we also actively promote the use of other public transport services, and their integration with the railway system.  However, while we promote healthy competition among service providers with a view to giving commuters more and better choices, we are also conscious of the environmental impact brought about by inefficient use of transport resources.  Therefore, we advocate optimum use of transport resources and rationalisation of bus services where justified and as necessary.

     The Action Blue Sky Campaign launched by the Transport Department in 2006 is an example of our effort.  To balance competing considerations between providing choices for passengers on one hand and enhancing sustainability on the other hand, between 2004 and September 2009, we cancelled 46 bus routes, truncated 19 routes, and reduced the frequency of 84 routes.  As a result of these rationalisation efforts, the number of franchised buses in service decreased from about 6,200 in early 2004 to about 5,800 in 2009.  Moreover, above 6,600 bus trips per day passing through the three busiest bus corridors were removed during the 10 years between 1999 and 2009.  Further, the number of bus stoppings in these busy corridors was reduced by about 4,800 per peak hour. We also promote the use of more Euro II or above buses in specified busy corridors.  At present, about 90% of the buses running along these corridors are environmentally friendly buses meeting Euro II standard or above.

     There are a series of 19 emission control measures proposed for achieving the new Air Quality Measures.  Among these 19 measures, ten of them are transport-related, including, early retirement of aged or heavy polluting vehicles, wider use of hybrid or electric vehicles, setting up of "low emission zones", introducing further car-free zones or pedestrianisation schemes, and expanding and upgrading of our cycling network, etc.  My department, the Transport Department would continue to work closely with the Environment Protection Department to pursue these measures.

     On better use of advanced technologies, we are implementing a comprehensive Intelligent Transport Systems strategy.  We have completed a number of projects.  Among these, the Transport Information System is a centralised data warehouse to collect, process and disseminate transport and traffic information.  We are now reaping the benefits of the Transport Information System by the rolling out of the Traffic Speed Map, the Public Transport Enquiry Service and quite recently the Driving Route Search Service. These services are provided through the Internet.  These are all free services for the public.  On dissemination of traffic information to motorists on the road, we have completed the Journey Time Indication System on Hong Kong Island north and, we have just commissioned the expansion system in Kowloon and Hong Kong east.  We are also installing five Speed Map Panels in the New Territories for completion in 2012.

     We are carrying out projects to install Traffic Control and Surveillance (TCS) facilities in the Strategic Road Network. The TCS systems for Tuen Mun Road, Tolo Highway and Fanling Highway. They are all scheduled for completion around 2014/2015.  Currently, more than 90% of the signalised junctions in Hong Kong are controlled by Area Traffic Control Systems.  This percentage will be raised to 95% by next year.

     With more effective and efficient transport management, road capacity will be increased, travelling time shortened, and road safety enhanced.  In addition, there will be benefits to the environment from savings in fuel consumption, reduction in vehicle emissions and noise pollution, and improvement in public health overall.

     You will have noted that the preceding four "betters" all contribute directly or indirectly to sustainability.  Under the last of the five guiding principles -- "better environmental protection", we focus on areas where further enhancement can be made.  We are devoting quite a lot of effort and resources to this end.

     Traffic noise is a nuisance in our daily life.  We have plans to implement noise reduction measures in all new highway projects and, where possible, retrofit existing highways with low-noise road surfacing or noise barriers.

     Diesel vehicles are a major source of street-level air pollution in Hong Kong.  To reduce their emissions, the Government has been promoting and exploring the use of cleaner fuels and transport modes since 1999 through the following means:

(i) incentive programmes to encourage owners to replace their diesel taxis with LPG taxis; and to replace diesel light buses with LPG or electric ones.  As at present, over 99.9% of the taxi fleet and 55% of the public light bus fleet have been converted to the use of  more environmentally friendly fuel;

(ii) all franchised buses have switched to Euro V diesel since end 2007;

(iii) we are exploring the use of environmentally-friendly transport modes in new development areas; and finally

(iv) we promote the use of electric vehicles or environmentally friendly vehicles through waiving or reducing the first registration tax of these vehicles, and provision of battery charging facilities for electric vehicles in selected Government carparks.

     Apart from promoting and exploring the use of cleaner fuels, we also help tighten vehicle emission with the following measures:

- we require all newly registered heavy duty vehicles, including franchised buses, to meet Euro IV emission standard; and

- secondly, including a clause in all bus franchises to require the adoption of latest commercially available and proven environment-friendly technologies and products on newly acquired buses to reduce exhaust emission as far as reasonably practicable.

     So, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will have had a broad sense of how Government sees our public transport strategy as the means by which to build an environmental friendly transport system in Hong Kong.  Our greatest challenge, though, is to encourage the public to come up with their own versions of sustainable transport in their daily life: to take rail as their priority mode of transport; to forsake through-trip door-to-door car rides in favour of park-and-ride; to switch to environmentally friendly fuel; to walk instead of drive for short distances; and, if they must have their own cars, to driver only if public transport is either unavailable or inconvenient.  This requires a change in mindset.  In this respect, I wish to give recognition the effort made by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, Hong Kong Branch, and other professionals and practitioners in promoting the concept of environmentally friendly sustainable transport system over the years.  I hope that, with this seminar, we will have more interesting fruits for thought as we work together for the well being of our future generations.  Thank you and I wish you every success in your seminar.


June 5, 2010