Heat’s on for idle drivers

Hong Kong – The clock’s ticking on drivers who keep the engines of stationary vehicles running for more than three minutes.
Failing to turn off an engine in that time will mean an automatic fine of HK$320 if the government has its way.
The proposal goes to the Legislative Council on April 28, and if it’s approved before the mid-year recess then it will be on the road to test drivers this summer. They will have to sweat it out without air-conditioners.

The switch-off rule will apply to all private and commercial vehicles, though taxis and minibuses at pickup points can be rare exceptions along with hybrids. The plan is to have 270 traffic wardens dedicated to enforcing the no-idling- engine rule, with the effort concentrated in urban areas.  Moving a car from one place to a nearby slot just before the three minutes is up won’t buy time.

And drivers could be given two or more tickets if they continue to keep engines running for long periods. There could be one loophole: as the ticket would go to the driver rather than the vehicle, a warden may not be able to act if a vehicle’s driver is changed every three minutes. Besides hybrids, exceptions will be made for the first five taxis at a stand and the first two green minibuses at each route terminus. The first red minibus at a stand and the vehicle immediately behind it with at least one passenger are also exempted.

Non-franchised buses such as those for tourists and which have at least one passenger on board are also in the clear. Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern group chairman Lai Ming-hung said taxi drivers are largely in agreement with the move, but he hopes certain taxi stops can be exempted. “If the sixth taxi is not allowed to switch on the engine the car will be very hot and customers will complain,” he said.

Drivers and operators of green minibuses are also set to fall in line, Lai said, though there is a hope red minibus stands will be clearly defined. “For red minibuses there are no real bus stands,” he said. “The drivers hope the wording in the bill will specify what are the ‘usual spots for getting on or off a minibus’ instead of a ‘stand.'”  Green group Clear The Air applauded the proposed legislation as it would reduce roadside emissions. It suggested the government should encourage people to report stationary vehicles whose engines run for long periods.

Officials have an answer ready for anyone with gripes about the heat going on drivers. For they have checked how authorities in Singapore and Japan have handled the challenge of idling engines and pollution. “There are no exemptions in the regulations on idling engines during hot weather,” said one official, who pointed out that summer heat in those countries tops Hong Kong temperatures.

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