It doesn’t take a genius to link air pollution with old vehicles, and the powers-that-be in Hong Kong have tried for decades to reduce the constant smog smothering one of the world’s most populated cities. Now a new initiative will ban the dirtiest diesel vehicles from the city limits while offering companies financial incentives for modernizing their delivery fleets.
While Hong Kong’s ruling party hasn’t laid out specifics, city leaders have noted that since air quality goals were enacted 25 years ago, the city has not met its own self-imposed goals once. In fact, last year saw 175 days of “high pollution” days, meaning almost half of 2012 was spent under a cloud of smog and engine emissions. While Hong Kong says that just 3,000 premature deaths a year are attributed to heavy pollution, the real number is probably a lot higher.
The main factor is the more than 120,000 diesel-powered heavy vehicles, including delivery trucks and buses, that operate in the city limits. 40% of these vehicles are older diesel models that comply with the Euro II model, emitting more than 12x the emissions that more modern diesel vehicles complying with the Euro V standard. While it is cheaper to run these older diesel vehicles rather than replace them, the long term health costs to society as a whole can no longer be tolerated, even in places like China, where the welfare of the working class is rarely cause for concern.
Hong Kong plans to get companies to phase out these older diesel vehicles by offering substantial government subsidies, while banning older diesel vehicles from operating in the city limits. City leaders hope that threat of banning businesses from operating their fleets in Hong Kong proper, along with generous subsidies, will lead to a cleaner, greener fleet of modern diesel vehicles. Other efforts to clean up air pollution include Hong Kong’s police department buying and using a fleet of Brammo electric motorcycles, which have been met with unabashed enthusiasm.
Other cities, including Paris, France and London, England have experimented with ways of reducing urban congestion and pollution. While London enacted a congestion charge for downtown that exempts EV and plug-in hybrid vehicles, Paris has talked about banning older, larger, and dirtier vehicles from the city limits, though without the draconian efficiency of Hong Kong. Beijing has also toyed with such
If Hong Kong’s efforts prove fruitful, other cities could follow their model. But it could also drive the cost of doing business in Hong Kong up as well. Will business owners adapt, fight, or flee these new stringent diesel restrictions?