There are solutions to Hong Kong increasing gridlock, if only the government will let them be.
Photo Credit: Chris Lusher
Hong Kong is well known for being a fast moving city, but not anymore when our average car journey speeds are 10km/h or lower in the weekday morning peak hours — only twice as fast as an average walking speed of an adult. Limited scope for more road transport infrastructure, excessive number of vehicles and competing use of road space cause road traffic congestion.
The number of vehicles increased by 30% from 524,000 to 681,000 in a period of ten years. Yet the growth rate of total length of public roads in Hong Kong is only expected to be 0.4% p.a. in 2020, while the current growth of vehicle fleet is about 3.4% p.a. Sooner or later it will be more efficient to walk to work instead of driving!
The solutions so far
Many cities have come up with various solutions to traffic congestion, such as the introduction of congestion charges in London in 2003, which is a daily charge of £11.50 (approximately HK$138) when you enter the congestion charge zone. Since its implementation, Transport for London reported a 10% reduction in traffic volumes and an overall reduction of 11% in vehicle kilometres in London between 2000 and 2012, but traffic speeds have been getting progressively slower over the past decade, particularly in central London. Slower vehicles means more pollution, irate drives and lower productivity as work and leisure hours are wasted in slow traffic.
A more successful solution of reduction of auto-driven street congestion on the road was the Bicycle Sharing System introduced in 2010 in London, which saw over 26 million trips using bicycles since the scheme began in July 2010. However, a 3m wide area (1.5m for each way) of the road has been reserved for bike lanes, thus constricting the road space available to cars. Whether the decrease in car/public transport trips overrides the effect of constricted road remains to be seen.
Carpooling is another solution to decreasing the amount of vehicles on the road. People who travel to the same locations can use one car instead of five when used to its maximum efficiency. Even at its average efficiency, three cars are replaced by one. Shared taxi services (泥鯭的) are illegal in Hong Kong, but do exist. These taxis do not show the ‘For Hire’ sign but park on the streets and wait for passengers to get on. These passengers only know where these taxis are parked and which one they should get on through word of mouth. This is inefficient, a waste of road space, unavailable to all citizens, and illegal. However, in other countries such as Singapore, carpooling is legal and has allowed new apps to connect people that are going to the same location, while alerting drivers at the same time. This way the process is more efficient, all passengers have access to this, the Uber vehicles would not need to take up road space and only drives and picks up/drops off passengers.
Against the law?
The legality of carpooling was discussed in Council Meeting on the 14 October 2015, where Hon Charles Mok put forward a question to the authorities whether they will consider relaxing the criteria so that companies and car owners operating such business may operate lawfully with a permit.
The government have responded that they will promote and review taxi services while improving the regime for approving hire car permits. They also promised to further study taxi hailing mobile apps. However, placing a focus on the hire car services like Uber would be much more advantageous: they are no longer a brand new start up but an proven, efficient, working app in many countries around the world. Since they have GPS running and locations are sent to headquarters constantly, decreasing the likelihood of drivers driving extra unneeded distances and allowing headquarters to know the exact location of each and car. This enables the service to be available sooner, safer and with fewer defects.
The government can spend months ‘studying’ options while new cars hit the streets, outstripping roadwork production. Proven solutions like Uber are up and running with a successful track record around the world. All the government has to do is let them be.