Speech by Commissioner for Transport at the 15th HKSTS International Conference


     Following is the speech by the Commissioner for Transport, Mr Joseph Y T Lai, at the 15th HKSTS International Conference on "Sustainable Transport in Hong Kong" today (December 11):

Professor Teng, Professor Lam, Dr Sumalee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning.  First of all, let me say how deeply honoured I am to have been invited by the Hong Kong Society for Transportation Studies to take part in today's conference and to say a few words about sustainable transport in Hong Kong.  

     What I would like to do in the next 20 to 25 minutes is to give an account of the diversified transport system in Hong Kong to briefly introduce to you our ways of encouraging commuters to use public transport and to share with you our future challenges in developing and sustaining our transport system.

     Transport is evidently important for our economic activity and social life.  It affects everyone of us who use transport services either regularly or occasionally for different purposes.  It also supports our remarkable economic growth.  Hong Kong is a leading international financial centre.  It is also a major international trading and services hub as well as a high value-added manufacturing base.  The opening of the vast Mainland market following China's accession to the World Trade Organization provides impetus to bolster Hong Kong's role as a strategic gateway to the vast mainland market.  Hong Kong's continuing economic success is due to many factors.  One of the factors is an efficient and well-developed transport system.

     To put the challenges of planning and managing the public transport system in Hong Kong in a proper context, one should bear in mind that Hong Kong is a small city with a land area of less than 1,100 square kilometres. Only one-third of the land is usable.  At the same time, it has a population of about seven million.  This means we have very high population density in the urban areas.  Every 1,000 population has only 0.29 km of road on average that is far lower than comparable figures in other developed jurisdictions, for example Singapore (0.91 km) and Japan (9.34 km).  Every day, the seven million people in Hong Kong generate about 12 million trips.  How could we deal with the transport demand of these seven million people?  The answer is - the development and continuous improvement of our public transport system.  Around 90% of the passenger trips use various modes of public transport.  Arguably, this is one of the highest percentages around the world.  The public transport in Hong Kong comprises railways, buses, light buses, taxis and ferries.  Railway is the backbone of the public transport system, supplemented by other services such as bus, light bus, taxi and ferry.  Rail and franchised bus are the two mass transit modes that take up the greatest market share, about 36% and 32% respectively.

     The wide use of railways and other public transport modes has brought about a lot of benefits to our community.

     With an efficient, reliable, safe and affordable public transport system, our private car ownership rate has been kept low, at only 56 private cars per 1,000 population.  The rate is far lower than that of other developed jurisdictions in Europe and America, and also lower than that of our counterparts with similar level of economic development, such as Singapore (148 private cars per 1,000 population) and Japan (325 private cars per 1,000 population).  The low utilisation of private car is one of the major factors contributing to the low level of carbon emission per capita of Hong Kong's transport system in comparison with other cities in the world.

     Fewer cars also mean a smaller demand for roads such that our precious land resource can be used for other more important purposes.

     Arguably, relatively low usage of vehicles on roads helps reduce the number of traffic accidents in Hong Kong.  The traffic fatality rate in Hong Kong is 23 persons per one million population, which is lower than that in Singapore (46 persons) and Japan (50 persons).

     As I said, in Hong Kong, 90% of the population use public transport.  Public transport operators are all private enterprises, unlike in other jurisdictions.  They provide the services on a commercial basis.  They are self-financing without recurrent subsidies from the government.  Because of large volume of passengers, the fares can generally be kept at levels which are basically affordable to the general public, and which at the same time are commercially viable.  

     How did we achieve all that?  Essentially, we have adopted the following strategies in planning and managing the transport system in Hong Kong -
(a) Integration of transport and city planning;
(b) Encouraging the use of railways and walking to reduce the demand for road transport;
(c) Using intelligent transport system to improve the efficiency of road transport; and
(d) Adopting green technologies to reduce pollution.

     I will elaborate these strategies one by one.

(a) Integration of transport and city planning

     An effective integration of transport and city planning will significantly reduce both our reliance on road transport and hence related environmental problems.  In Hong Kong, integration of transport and city planning is achieved through careful land planning along railway lines.  We generally plan for relatively high-density developments such as major residential blocks, commercial buildings, composite shopping malls and so on above railway stations or within the 0.5 km walking catchment zone of a railway station.  By doing so, we can encourage and facilitate people to use the rail service.  In turn, this will make the rail service sustainable on the one hand, and reduces the demand for road transport on the other.

     According to the Government's 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.  Providing well-coordinated and quality public transport interchanges at railway stations will help feed passengers to the railways and maximise the efficiency of the transport system as a whole.  For public transport services to operate efficiently, we have been looking for closer integration at an operational level among different transport modes.  This includes better facilities at interchanges, provision of information on timetables, routes and fares and interchanges of all sorts including bus-rail or bus-bus interchange.

(b) Encouraging the use of railways and walking to reduce the demand for road transport

     The second strategy is to encourage the use of railways for long journeys and walking for short journeys to reduce the demand for road transport.  Railways and walking are more environmentally friendly than road-based transport.

     For people living further away from the railway station, we provide them with feeder franchised bus or minibus services.  We encourage them to take these feeder services for interchanging with rail service.

     To make it easier for people to make their way through busy and congested roads, we build footbridge network, in particular in the buildup city centre or at the railway stations.  Footbridge separates pedestrians from vehicles, thus preventing pedestrians and vehicles from competing with each other for road space, promoting traffic safety and enhancing road capacity.  It also provides shelter from inclement weather, and greatly facilitates members of the public to walk for short journeys.  Here in Hong Kong, we have 732 footbridges.  We will continue provide footbridges with shelters connecting the developments with the railway stations.

(c) Using intelligent transport system to improve the efficiency of road transport

     No matter how we rely on railway, road-based transport is still an essential component of land transport.  Therefore, apart from doing our best in meeting our transport needs by railway, we also strive to improve the efficiency of road based transport to satisfy the ever growing transport demand.  So, the third strategy is to use the intelligent transport systems (ITS) to enhance the safety, efficiency and reliability of the transport system in Hong Kong.

     The ITSs collect, process and release comprehensive traffic information.  The system can make use of the traffic information collected to coordinate local operation of traffic lights, and arrange for traffic diversion so as to utilise road space and cope with traffic emergencies in a better manner.  We have also developed ITS to facilitate the release of traffic and transport information to the general public.  For example, we make use of the data collected to launch the Public Transport Enquiry Service, the Journey Time Indication System and the Driving Route Search Service.  These are all free public services.  By using IT innovations, we could facilitate public transport users to select their choice of transport mode and the routing which most suits their need.  We could also help motorists find a less time-consuming driving route.  In turn that will help reduce road congestion, shorten journey time, and thereby reduce fuel consumption, vehicle emission and noise pollution in general.

(d) Adopting green technologies to reduce pollution

     The fourth strategy is to adopt green technologies to reduce pollution resulted from road transport.  Motor vehicles are the major source of urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emission.  It is necessary to encourage the public and the trade to use more environmental friendly vehicles.  Over the past decade, we have subsidised public transport operators to switch to the use of greener liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).  As at today, more than 99% of taxis and 63% of public light buses in Hong Kong have been using LPG.  Their emission of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide is half of that when diesel oil was used, while the emission of respirable suspended particulates is almost none.

     Franchised buses are one of the major causes of roadside air pollution on busy corridors.  As outlined by the Chief Executive in his Policy Address this year, the Government's ultimate objective is to have zero emission buses running across the territory.  The Government plans to designate pilot low-emission zone in busy districts with a target of having only low-emission buses in these zones by the year 2015.  We have also proposed to fund the full cost of procuring six hybrid double decker buses to test its operational efficiency and performance in Hong Kong.

     That particular challenge in Hong Kong is for double decker buses to be provided with air-conditioning and to cope with rather hilly terrain, in particular on Hong Kong Island.  That is why a pilot test is needed and the government is prepared to fund.

     In the meantime, we have been working with bus companies to conduct a trial to retrofit Euro II and Euro III buses with catalytic reduction devices to meet Euro IV nitrogen oxide emission standard.  We will also require bus companies to replace their buses with models complying with the most stringent prevailing emission standards when bus companies' franchises are renewed.  

     Furthermore, various statutory standards have also been raised from time to time.  For example, starting from January 1, 2007, all newly registered vehicles are required to comply with the Euro IV emission standards.  From 2009, Euro V diesel has been made statutory standard for motor diesel.  

     To encourage the transport sector to test out green and low-carbon transport means and technology on its initiative, the Government is planning to set up a $300 million Pilot Green Transport Funds for application by transport trade.  Various tax concessionary measures have also been introduced to encourage the use of environment-friendly vehicles that comply with the Euro V emission standards, and environment-friendly petrol private cars.

     Looking ahead, we need to ask ourselves if our transport system is still able to meet the growth in traffic demand, and if our long established strategy is still practicable, given the changing circumstances.

     Hong Kong and Mainland China are increasingly integrated, economically and socially.  Therefore, we can no longer plan on the basis that we are just a self-contained city with seven million people.  To support the integration, an efficient transport system plays a crucial role.  We have taken action to face this challenging task.  For example, we have been constructing a high-speed rail link (the ERL) connecting Hong Kong with southern part of Mainland China.  Upon commissioning, the journey time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou can be reduced from about 100 minutes, as at present, to within one hour since this high-speed rail link will be connected with the national high-speed rail network in the Mainland, the passengers can also travel to and from Hong Kong and major Mainland cities in a much shorter time.  The project has great significance in enhancing Hong Kong's status as the gateway to the Pearl River Delta and the vast Mainland hinderland, further strengthening the economic co-operation between the Mainland and Hong Kong, as well as enhancing the overall competitiveness of the Pearl River Delta in the international arena.  

     A second challenge is our growing population which has exerted pressure on our transport system.  Our resources are scarce, land resources in particular.  We have to carefully plan ahead the provision of road, public transport facilities and transport infrastructure.  At the same time, we have to avoid over-provision or unhealthy competition among the transport modes while ensuring commuters are given sufficient and adequate choice.

     With the advancement of new technology, new types of vehicles such as electric cars, hybrid cars, are available in the market.  The challenge for the Government is to provide the necessary legislative and regulatory framework to help facilitate the use of these new types of vehicles.

     We need more innovative solutions to resolve these challenges.  In this respect, I wish to pay tribute to the Hong Kong Society for Transportation Studies in promoting the concept of environmentally friendly sustainable transport system over the years.  I hope that, with this conference, 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 with your conference today.

     Thank you.

December 11, 2010