Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1)958/98-99 (These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)


LegCo Panel on Transport LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of joint meeting held on Tuesday, 15 December 1998, at 2:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building Members of the LegCo Panel on Transport

Members present :

*Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP (Chairman)
*Hon LAU Kong-wah (Deputy Chairman)
*Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon FUNG Chi-kin

Members absent :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
*Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon LAU Chin-shek, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members of the LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Members present :

Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)
Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members absent :

Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Bernard CHAN
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon WONG Yung-kan

* also a member of the LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Non-Panel member attending:

Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP

Public officers attending:

Planning, Environment & Lands Bureau

Mr Howard CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary (Environment)

Environmental Protection Department

Mr TSE Chin-wan
Assistant Director (Air)

Mr MOK Wai-chuen

Principal Environmental Protection Officer

Transport Bureau

Miss Eliza LEE
Principal Assistant Secretary

Transport Department

Mr Alan LUI
Assistant Commissioner

Electrical & Mechanical Services Department

Mr Martin WONG
Chief Engineer / Gas Production & Supply
By invitation :
Better Environment Hong Kong

Mr Steve CHOI

Ms Cindy WONG
Campaign Coordinator

Ms Josephine CHENG
Campaign Coordinator

Hong Kong Automobile Association

Mr Ringo LEE

Mr Jackson HO
Hon Secretary
Clerk in attendance :
Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1
Staff in attendance :
Mr Andy LAU,
Acting Chief Assistant Secretary (1)6

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2
I Election of Chairman

Miss Christine LOH was elected Chairman for the joint meeting.

II A proposal to introduce Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Taxis

Meeting with deputations

Better Environment Hong Kong (BEHK)
(LC Paper No CB(1)638/98-99)

2. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Steve CHOI said that the control on air pollution rested with the use of clean fuels, the implementation of effective vehicle maintenance programmes as well as the adoption of stringent emission standards. The exhaust from diesel vehicles was a major source of respirable suspended particulates in the air. Since LPG produced less particulates than diesel, it was a good alternative fuel for vehicles. The LPG Taxi Scheme (the Scheme) had to be both economical and convenient if it was to be successfully implemented. However, due to geographical constraints, there was a limit on the number of LPG filling stations in Hong Kong which in turn might affect the feasibility of extending the use of LPG to other types of vehicles.

3. Mr CHOI drew members' attention to the cost implications of the Scheme which were detailed in the submission of BEHK. According to BEHK's calculation, the total set-up costs for 60 LPG filling stations and 200 LPG vehicle repair workshops would be about $520 million and the fuel tax would be around $432 million. He called on the Administration to make it known as early as possible how these costs would be borne as this would directly affect the retail. To make the Scheme a success, Mr CHOI also stressed the need for providing training to equip mechanics with the skills to repair LPG taxis and better coordination among various Government departments.

Hong Kong Automobile Association (AA)
(LC Paper No. CB(1)649/98-99)

4. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Ringo LEE highlighted the salient points of his submission which was tabled at the meeting. He said that the LPG Taxi Trial Scheme was welcome by most drivers and passengers. Some taxi drivers however had reservations about the use of LPG because the power capacity of LPG taxis were generally lower than that of diesel taxis. AA was also concerned about the adequacy of LPG filling stations and repair workshops. Mr LEE suggested that the Government should work out precisely the cost implications of the Scheme, provide adequate LPG filling stations and train sufficient mechanics for the maintenance and repair of LPG taxis.

Discussion with deputations

5. Noting BEHK's point on the general inadequacy of vehicle maintenance and technology in Hong Kong, Mrs Miriam LAU sought its view as to how this could be improved. Mr Steve CHOI said that while vehicle pollutants could be reduced with proper repair, statistics indicated that more than 65% of re-tested vehicles which had undergone repair showed disappointing emission results. This was possibly due to the lack of well-qualified mechanics and ignorance on their part about the latest technology. Mr CHOI added that with the advancement of vehicle technology which often involved complicated computer network systems, it was increasingly difficult for mechanics to keep pace with the latest technology. In this connection, he suggested that the Government should provide training courses for vehicle mechanics with a view to updating them on the latest technology on vehicle repair and maintenance.

6. As regards vehicle inspection in overseas countries, Mr CHOI said that mandatory vehicle inspection systems were imposed in most countries. Vehicles had to be submitted for emission tests at regular intervals to ensure compliance with emission standards. This would ensure proper maintenance of vehicles since the amount of exhaust emissions was directly related to the level of maintenance. As an example, Mr CHOI said that vehicles in the United States were subject to mandatory vehicle inspection every two years. The State of Colorado imposed a grading system on the service standards of vehicle repair workshops. This was done through a voluntary programme under which the results of emission tests for vehicles before and after maintenance by participating workshops were made available to the authorities for reference. In this way, the authorities could assess the standard of workshops. The Administration might consider this grading system in respect of vehicle repair shops when implementing the LPG Taxi Scheme. Mr CHOI said that only through the application of stringent emission standards and effective vehicle inspection schemes could the service standards of vehicle repair shops be improved in order to remain competitive in the market. He called on the Administration to work out a more comprehensive scheme for vehicle maintenance and inspection.

Meeting with the Administration
(LC Paper No. CB(1)622/98-99(01))

7. Responding to the views of deputations, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (PAS/PEL(E)) said that he was pleased to learn that both BEHK and AA supported the LPG Taxi Scheme. The Administration concurred that a few issues needed to be tackled to make the scheme a success. These included the introduction of financial incentives to promote the switch from diesel to LPG, the availability of LPG filling stations and the provision of adequate maintenance workshops and vehicle mechanics. As a further move to control air pollution, the Administration intended to introduce more stringent emission standards. PAS/PEL(E) added that the views put forward by members of the public during the public consultation period on the LPG Taxi Scheme would be collated and analyzed before implementing the Scheme. A report on the outcome of the LPG Taxi Trial Scheme would be submitted to members for consideration.

LPG filling stations

8. Referring to the costs of setting up LPG filling station as calculated by BEHK, PAS/PEL(E) said that of the 62 potential sites identified for use as LPG filling stations, only 19 were new sites while the remaining 43 were existing petrol filling stations which could be retrofitted for providing LPG as well. Hence the calculation of BEHK based on the provision of 60 new LPG filling stations might not be accurate. Upon request of members, the Administration would attempt to ascertain the respective costs of setting up a new LPG filling station and of converting an existing filling station to supply LPG. PAS/PEL(E) said that information on potential sites had been provided to fuel suppliers. To help streamline the administrative procedures for setting up LPG filling stations and to reduce the time required to a minimum, an inter-departmental working group had been set up to consider and process tender applications from fuel suppliers. Meanwhile, residents and Provisional District Boards (PDB) were being consulted on the choice of sites for new LPG filling stations. The majority of PDBs consulted supported the proposed plan to set up LPG filling stations although some had reservations on the choice of a few sites. Four PDBs had yet to be consulted. Upon completion of the consultation process, the Administration would provide a report on the outcome of the consultation to the Panel.

9. On the time frame for the provision of LPG filling stations, PAS/PEL(E) said that fuel suppliers could now submit applications for retrofitting their existing stations to supply LPG. If the land of existing stations was not designated for such use, owners had to apply for change of land use should any extra land be needed for supplying LPG. It would take about 10 to 12 months to complete the retrofitting works before existing stations could supply LPG. As for the 19 potential sites which had been identified as suitable for setting up new LPG filling stations from a safety point of view, the Administration would need to go through the normal procedures for change of land use as some of the sites had been earmarked for other uses. The Administration envisaged that this whole process would take about 12 to 18 months to complete.

10. Mrs Miriam LAU said that although information on chosen sites and safety requirements of LPG filling stations were made available to fuel suppliers, the amount of land premium to be paid had yet to be disclosed. Since land premium would affect the retail price of LPG, she enquired when this information would be released to the trade. In response, PAS/PEL(E) said that the land premium payable for different sites would vary. For existing oil filling stations, land premium should not be a significant factor. The Administration would liaise with fuel suppliers when concrete plans about the choice of sites for setting up LPG filling stations had been worked out.

11. In response to Miss Emily LAU's enquiries about the timetable for the switch of diesel taxis to LPG taxis, the number of LPG filling stations available for use and the number of taxis expected to use LPG in the coming years, PAS/PEL(E) said that the Administration aimed to require all newly registered taxi to use LPG by the end of 2000 and to encourage all diesel taxis to be replaced by LPG taxis by 2005. Since the switch from diesel taxis to LPG taxis was on a voluntary basis, it would be difficult to estimate the number of LPG taxis that would be running on the streets. At present the four temporary LPG filling stations were able to service 200 LPG taxis. More LPG filling stations would come into operation in the next one to two years. It was expected that about 30 to 40 LPG filling stations could be set up before the end of 2000. This number should be sufficient to service all new taxis using LPG. Miss Emily LAU stressed the importance of expediting the setting up of supporting facilities in time to support the mandatory use of LPG for newly registered taxis in 2000. PAS/PEL(E) noted her concern and said that the Administration would continue to search for potential sites to ensure that enough LPG filling stations in different locations could be established in time to support the whole taxi fleet using LPG. In response to members, the Administration would provide a detailed breakdown on the expected number of LPG filling stations in the coming years up to 2005 and their designed serving capacity.

Emission control

12. On measures to control vehicle emissions, the Assistant Director (Air), Environmental Protection Department (AD/EPD) advised that at present all commercial diesel vehicles were subject to annual inspection checks. About 63% of motor vehicles in Hong Kong were running on petrol while the remaining 37% on diesel. The latter were mostly commercial vehicles like taxis, minibuses, buses and trucks.

13. Miss Emily LAU pointed out the prevalence of smoky vehicles and queried the effectiveness of the present inspection system. AD/EPD explained that since the implementation of the Smoky Vehicle Control Programme in 1988, there had been a decline in the number of spotted smoky vehicles. From 1995 onwards, the figure of smoky vehicles spotted per hour had remained steady. To improve the effectiveness of the Smoky Vehicle Control Programme, the Administration would introduce in mid-1999 a more effective smoke test using dynamometers for vehicles up to 5.5 tonnes. This would be a more revealing smoke test that could effectively detect smoke emissions of vehicles under different conditions. The proposed method would force the vehicle maintenance standard to improve and would eliminate the possibility of cheating. The vehicle maintenance industry had been consulted on this enhanced test method. A Code of Practice had been formulated in this respect and a pilot scheme for introducing the new test method had been launched. AD/EPD added that improvements in air quality could not be achieved entirely through better vehicle maintenance. The reduction in the number of diesel vehicles on roads would have a direct bearing on the air quality in Hong Kong.

14. Miss Emily LAU stressed the need to conduct wide public consultation, particularly with the green groups on the use of dynamometers in smoke emission tests. In response to members, AD/EPD agreed to provide the legislative time-table for implementing the use of dynamometers to test vehicles emissions and the details of proposed legislative amendments.Admin.

15. Regarding the use of environment-friendly fuels, AD/EPD said that the Administration was open-minded on the matter. It would be prepared to adopt new types of fuels which were proved to be more environmentally friendly. At present, the standards of fuel used in Hong Kong were comparable to those of the European Union. The Administration noted the use of bio-diesel in some countries but considered that more research was necessary to establish its use as a cleaner alternative fuel.

The provision of vehicle workshops and mechanics for servicing LPG taxis

16. Mr CHAN Wing-chan enquired about the number of vehicle workshops which were available in Hong Kong and how the Administration would assist these workshops in providing service to LPG vehicles. In response, PAS/PEL(E) said that he understood that there were more than 300 vehicle mechanics involved in the repair and maintenance of diesel taxis. So far over 90 vehicle workshops had expressed interest in equipping themselves in servicing LPG taxis. More parties would be interested in setting up workshops for maintaining LPG vehicles when the fleet of LPG taxis grew. The Administration would closely monitor the development in this respect and would publicize the maintenance requirements for LPG taxis as well as the safety requirements of LPG vehicle workshops to ensure that sufficient numbers of workshops would be set up.

17. The Chief Engineer/Gas Production and Supply, Electrical & Mechanical Services Department (CE/EMSD) added that the total number of vehicle workshops in Hong Kong were about 1,500, of which 400 were involved in repair and maintenance of diesel vehicles. The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department had already prepared preliminary guidelines for operating LPG vehicles workshops. The basic requirements were good ventilation and provision of gas detection system as a safety precaution. These requirements were not technically difficult to comply with.

18. Referring to paragraph 7 of the information paper, Mrs Miriam LAU expressed concern about the stringent requirements for vehicle workshops servicing LPG vehicles since of the 40 vehicle workshops inspected, only 11 had been found suitable if proper safety measures were put in. As such, she was worried that there might not be sufficient workshops to service the entire fleet of LPG taxis. She was also concerned about the standards of service of vehicle workshops, given that quite a number of them were not delivering satisfactory services. She suggested that the Administration should consider regulating the standards of service of vehicles workshops.

19. In response, PAS/PEL(E) and AD/EPD replied as follows -

  1. The Administration was aware that the services provided by vehicle workshops were not entirely satisfactory, which explained the need for the introduction of the dynamometer tests. It was expected that with the use of a more revealing method, the standards of vehicle maintenance could be improved; and

  2. It was inadvisable for the Administration to recommend vehicle workshops. The transport associations could assist in this respect by keeping a record on the standards of service delivered and by making suitable recommendations to the transport trade.
20. On the provision of mechanics for servicing LPG taxis, PAS/PEL(E) advised that under the Gas Safety Ordinance, only a competent person who had received proper training and had substantial practical experience could carry out work on or in relation to a gas pipe. The Vocational Training Council (VTC) had been organizing free part-time training courses to equip in-service motor mechanics with the necessary skills and knowledge to become competent persons for servicing LPG vehicles. Since a large number of applications had been received, VTC intended to increase such courses. Guidelines had been set by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department on the maintenance and servicing of LPG vehicles.

21. CE/EMSD added that two additional training courses on the servicing of LPG vehicles had been organized by VTC in March 1999. To facilitate the attendance of in-service mechanics, VTC would be conducting both day and evening courses. It was expected that by August 1999, there would be about 180 trained mechanics available for servicing LPG taxis. About 300 to 400 mechanics would have completed these training courses by 2000. Upon completion of training courses, the mechanics would have to apply for enlistment as competent person under the Gas Safety (Gas Supply) Regulation, Cap. 51. LPG taxis and diesel taxis had comparable maintenance requirements and maintenance costs. In fact, LPG vehicles would require less maintenance because LPG was a much cleaner fuel.

22. Mrs Miriam LAU pointed out that under the present employment situation, unemployed workers might be enrolled in free training courses but might not be interested in joining the vehicle repair industry. The organisation of training courses could not ensure the provision of adequate trained mechanics to tie in with the implementation of the LPG Taxi Scheme. PAS/PEL(E) said that it would be difficult to guarantee that participants in the training courses would join the vehicle repair industry. To ensure that there would be a sufficient number of trained mechanics for servicing LPG taxis, it was recommended that in-service mechanics involved in taxi maintenance and repair should be given priority for admission in courses offered by VTC.

23. Mrs Miriam LAU and Miss CHOY So-yuk sought information on the availability of training courses to taxi drivers to educate them about the operation of LPG vehicles and equip them with the skills and knowledge to undertake minor repairs. PAS/PEL(E) explained that the maintenance requirements of LPG taxis were basically the same as those of diesel taxis, except for the fuel supply system. Hence, repair and maintenance of parts unrelated to the fuel system of LPG vehicles could be undertaken by regular vehicle workshops. Taxi drivers or any other persons who were competent motor mechanics wishing to carry out maintenance works on LPG fuel system would have to join training courses organized by VTC to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills for gas safety reasons. Pamphlets on the use and maintenance of LPG taxis would be issued to taxi drivers and vehicle workshop owners and copies of these would be made available to members for reference.

24. Mr CHAN Wing-chan was concerned that the job opportunities of mechanics specialized in diesel vehicle repair would be affected, given that diesel vehicle workshops might soon be phased out with the implementation of the LPG Taxi Scheme. PAS/PEL(E) said that the existing vehicle mechanics would not be rendered jobless because the repair and maintenance of parts unrelated to the fuel system of an LPG vehicle could still be undertaken by regular vehicle workshops. In any case, mechanics would be encouraged to take part in training courses to acquire the knowledge in servicing LPG vehicles. Members requested and the Administration agreed to provide the existing number of garages servicing the taxi fleet and the number of mechanics involved and consider introducing measures to enhance the standards of vehicles workshops and mechanics.

The way forward

25. Noting that the consultation period for the LPG Taxi Scheme would expire by the end of 1998, the Chairman sought information on measures to be implemented by the Administration to address the issues raised by the trade and members. PAS/PEL(E) said that the Administration would require about two to three months' time to collate the views received during the consultation period before deciding on the way forward.

26. Mrs Miriam LAU pointed out that the success of the LPG Taxi Scheme depended on a number of factors, namely competitiveness of the LPG price; the operating costs of LPG taxis; availability of LPG filling stations; and adequacy of LPG vehicle workshops and mechanics. She considered the provision of financial incentives necessary for the smooth switch from diesel to LPG. As the mandatory use of LPG for newly registered taxis would be introduced in 2000, Mrs LAU urged the Administration to expeditiously come up with concrete measures to allay the concerns of the taxi trade.

27. Miss Emily LAU opined that the air quality in Hong Kong was beyond tolerance. As a matter of urgency, the Administration should fast-track the implementation of the LPG Taxi Scheme.

28. PAS/PEL(E) said that subject to the provision of supporting facilities and the support from members of the trade and the public, the Administration was prepared to expedite the implementation of the Scheme. Meanwhile, the Administration would take any viable means to encourage voluntary conversion from diesel to LPG taxis.

29. Members agreed that the Chairmen of the Environmental Affairs and the Transport Panels should write to the Secretary of Planning, Environment and Lands, requesting the Financial Secretary to explain the financial incentives to be provided for the implementation of the Scheme when he introduced the Appropriation Bill in March 1999. The Panel would further follow up on the issue around April 1999 after the Administration had come up with proposals to address the various concerns raised.

(Post-meeting note: A letter signed by the Chairmen was sent to the Administration on 17 December 1998 and a copy of it was circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(1)669/98-99)

III Any other business

30. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 4:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
3 March 1999