The Public Transport Strategy Study (PTSS), released by the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB), was the first policy report to investigate Hong Kong transportation planning since the third comprehensive transport study in 1999. PTSS highlights the following 4 main principles:
- Better use of railways as the backbone of Hong Kong’s transport system;
- Better public transport services and facilities;
- Better use of advanced technologies in transport management; and
- Better environmental protection when developing transport facilities.
Despite the reinforcement on the role and position of public transport, Clean Air Network proposes that Hong Kong urgently needs a review on a more comprehensive transportation planning. The growth of the number of vehicles is currently out of control. Fleet size of cars on the roads is leading to the severe problem of traffic congestion. The social costs behind, such as time consumption, air pollution and health concerns, are yet seldom investigated by the transportation officials. PTSS intended to “enhance the existing strategic arrangements of our public transport services”. How beneficial, in terms of time, air, and health, the arrangements after enhancement will be to Hong Kong citizens are not even mentioned at all. With the 4 principles listed out, no indicators are concretely set out to elaborate in what ways people’s livelihood can be improved through transportation policies.
With reference to an international survey, PTSS revealed that Hong Kong’s public service ranks top among 84 cities. So why is the number of private cars in Hong Kong not experiencing any sort of decrease? The lack of pressure on restraining traffic demand in existing transportation planning gives the best explanation. Besides, on the spectrum of urban planning, it is estimated that scattered design of new towns will only stimulate cross-district traffic demand in the coming 15 years, implying that traffic demand will not stop expanding. PTSS suggested that, by 2031, the number of people requiring cross-district traffic will be 13.8 million. Although the estimated number can hardly be put to proof, it is foreseeable that traffic congestion will only be increasingly alarming in the North East and North West of New Territories, and in Lantau Island. Success or not of a transportation policy, in the eyes of THB’s, depends completely on its ability in developing cost-effectiveness, as well as the service’s speed and reliability. Due to the narrow-minded planning, traffic congestion in Hong Kong is never improving.
Reinterpreting the the costs and severity is the only way to solve traffic congestion. The government’s policies of developing the railway systems as the backbone of public transport is exactly a reaction towards the dilemma in road-based public transportation. 60% of road-based public transportation has made road commuters spending 2 to 3 hours everyday just to travel to work. An international survey projected that, in 2016, an extra 38 minutes is wasted on traffic congestion everyday for each HK citizen*(1)*. Economist Kwan estimated that the journey time of KMB has experienced a reduction of 20.2%, from an average of 30 minutes in 2009 to 36 minutes in 2014, causing an economic loss of HKD$2,865 million in total.
Researches discovered that air quality inside a car can be worse that in a outside environment with traffic congestion. Also according to a HKUST research, comparing to non-roadside regions, NO2 concentration can be 6-7 times higher in roadside regions, reaching a level of 300μg/m³ *(2)*. Health concern brought by roadside air pollution is no longer a problem we can neglect. To minimize the health cost, THB should start developing zero-emission transport in the public sector. Apart from EPD’s Pilot Green Transport Fund, local scientific research as well plays an important role. Transport Department should take the lead in the promotion of making the real time transport data public, and expanding it to not only bus companies but also other public transport operators. This would help easing the growth rate of private cars as it keeps passengers updated with more integrated information, increases attractiveness of public transport and allows the bypass of road-based vehicles.