Traffic Penalty must increase for violators

(This is our submission to the Government with respect to their proposal to increase fines for illegal parking and traffic violations. The matter is to be discussed in LegCo Subcommittee on 5 May 2017, which we have been invited to attend)

The Secretary,

Transport and Housing Bureau,

The Government of HKSAR,

Hong Kong

 

Attn: Prof. Anthony Cheung

 

Subcommittee on Two Proposed Resolutions under

the Fixed Penalty (Traffic Contraventions) Ordinance and

the Fixed Penalty (Criminal Proceedings) Ordinance

 

Dear Prof. Cheung,

 

At the onset I applaud your efforts in finally putting forward the captioned resolutions to the House Committee of the Legislative Council. As a common citizen of Hong Kong, who is a regular public transport user and a law-abiding occasional private car user, I feel that these proposals are not only long overdue but much milder than they should actually be.

 

I live in Shatin and work in Kowloon Bay. I also need to travel often to Central, Admiralty & Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island side, and Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon side. Anybody with their eyes open can witness what is happening on our roads and public spaces. There is rampant disregard to traffic rules; commercial vehicles are carrying out loading / unloading activities at bus stops, private cars are waiting at no-stopping zones for pick-up / set-down, cars parked illegally, vehicles occupying yellow boxes leading to gridlocks; the list is endless. There is nothing but utter anarchy and chaos. The police, despite their best efforts, is unable to handle the situation unless they start manning all the roads. Last two weekends the public transport terminus near Shatin Village, my minibus had to drive over the pedestrian islands to reach the designated pick-up / drop-off area. On one of the occasions, a Mercedes driver had left the car illegally parked in the car pick-up / set-down area, making it impossible for a coach behind to pass through. Often, illegally parked cars on both sides of Shan Mei Street makes it impossible for my bus to pass through and because of these inconsiderate disdain for the law, my journey often takes much longer than what I could even cover on foot. Anybody who is still delusional and unable to see the elephant in the room, I shall be happy to accompany them to numerous places, almost in every district of Hong Kong, anytime and show the problem. It is quite evident that current fines are not only an inadequate deterrent but have almost become irrelevant.

 

In the first reading of the amended resolutions, our lawmakers almost single-handedly blamed this on insufficient parking in downtown areas. As you can see in the cases above, none of this is caused by insufficient parking. Often, parking garages nearby are lying vacant but for some inexplicable reason these owners of expensive cars find it difficult to dole out a small sum for parking garages. In the Central, Admiralty & Wan Chai area, the parking lots have adjusted the prices to keep up with the inflation and in line with the economic fundamentals of supply & demand. Because of the low fines, in many case it turns out to be more economical to park illegally than park in private car parks.

 

Sir, as a law-abiding citizen, I must reiterate the fact that MOBILITY IS MY RIGHT, driving is not. Nobody should be holding 90% of the 7.2 million inhabitants of Hong Kong hostage who make an absolutely right and wise choice of travelling by Public Transport daily. This is what has made Hong Kong great, ranking right at the top of Global Mobility Index. For the economic well-being of all citizens of Hong Kong, we cannot afford to squander our advantage by giving in to vested interest of the small but influential minority.

 

In my opinion, the penalties should have been much higher by pegging them to rise in household income instead of inflation. Household income is a better measure of relative affordability and penalties by definition have to be a deterrent. They are not part of livelihood issues affecting any law-abiding citizen. Having said that, I do feel that we should let Great to become the enemy of the Good and your effort in raising the penalties is a step in the right direction. As a car owner and regular public transport user, I do thank you for your putting these resolution across. By this letter, I also urge the Council members to fully support the resolutions and give me as well as the most of the citizens of Hong Kong, our right to mobility.

 

Thanks for your attention.

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Cost overruns and delays are a blot on Hong Kong’s bridge and rail projects

Bernard Chan’s article about the long-term benefits of regional infrastructure links (“Hong Kong will come to appreciate its regional links”, February 2) was presented as something visionary coming from the current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying. While I appreciate that for every nice thing about a politician, one can find 10 faults, facts are facts and I would like to state some of them.

The connectivity of the Pearl River Delta’s regional links was on the Hong Kong government’s agenda before Mr Leung took office.

The high-speed Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge had gained traction before his election. Admittedly, the major construction work has taken place during his administration but, as any engineer can attest, neither project is a shining example of project management and execution. Rather, they have been fraught with cost overruns and construction delays.

I completely agree that both projects, when completed, may boost economic integration. But again, I would not go as far as patting anyone on the back for that, with regard to planning and execution. Even after the allocation of so many resources in terms of construction, and almost five years of Leung’s administration, we still do not have any clarity on joint immigration arrangements.

I am sure Mr Chan will appreciate that without seamless movement between the delta cities, any analogy with Greater Tokyo is far-fetched. I am not impressed by the performance of the government in failing to resolve this simple administrative issue regarding immigration and customs.

Hong Kong has rightfully prided itself over the last few decades on its flawless execution of projects that were far more complex. The entire region, if not the world, has looked up to our engineers.

These two projects, while completely justified for infrastructure integration of the Pearl River Delta, are a blot on our reputation of being on time and on budget when it comes to delivery of projects. While I do not know who specifically should be blamed for their less-than-perfect execution, I certainly think it is preposterous to give credit where it is not justified.

Taxi Tantrums

In the past couple of weeks Government, taxi trade and the politicians have made claims and counterclaims about premium taxis (http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/economy/article/2089217/taxi-2020-hong-kong-lawmaker-proposes-regulatory-system-trade). I completely agree that the current taxi trade is fraught with problems and needs fixing, which is the Government’s argument. But if I may ask, who exactly created this problem? Should Government not bear the onus of bad outcome of a mis-guided policy carried over for decades? It’s rather unfair to pass the entire blame on the trade most of whose front-line workers are living on meager income, finding it difficult to make ends meet.
So, Government created one monster and now trying to create another one in the form of premium taxis to kill the first one. If anybody cares to read the numbers, one will find that today the most critical problem of taxi trade is lack of drivers (due to low pay the average age of taxi drivers is more than 55 years) which means that a large number of taxis remain off-road during peak demand periods. Can somebody enlighten me how adding 600 more licenses under the pretext of Premium Taxis is going to address the problem? Of course, these licenses will be valuable (circa $6 million currently) and doled out to some fat cats who will merely be interested in further fattening their balance sheets.
Assuming that we will magically find all the drivers needed to operate the taxis, adding 600 taxis would mean on an average 30 odd additional taxis per district. Seriously?! That will eliminate our woes? Why not open the market for any new entrant as Singapore has done and let them compete for passengers? Are we not flying the flag of free economy anymore?
If the intent is to improve the service environment in lieu of 50% premium on fares, why not give the same incentive to existing operators? I am sure with additional income, not only will the existing operators be ready to bring in better quality vehicles but will also be able to attract sufficient drivers to the trade. Hong Kong is seeing traffic congestion of unprecedented levels now. Do we really want to add more traffic by unnecessarily adding more cars on to the roads just to tick a box? The trade is complaining about lack of consultation. I am not sure how true is that but I fail to see why Government can’t regulate the existing trade better. I am not sure the new monster will kill the older one or not but it will sure turn on us eventually. Two flawed policies do not make it right.
Government is calling this Premium Taxi plan a trial. What if it doesn’t work? I have yet to see any KPIs against which its success will be benchmarked. Do you want us to live in a delusion that it will ever be rolled back?
Oh! I forgot to mention Uber. With 50% more fares on premium taxis which will be difficult to find anyway, I am sure public would continue to use the Uber as they are now. I can almost hear the Uber guys chuckle. Perhaps due to supposedly brilliant designs of the Government, Hong Kong will be the first place where they will become profitable!