Legislative Council meeting Member’s Bill 2nd Reading – Road Traffic Legislation (Parking Spaces) (Amendment) Bill 2019

MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):

President, last year, the Executive Council approved the introduction of the Road Traffic Legislation (Parking Spaces) (Amendment) Bill 2019 (“the Bill”) into the Legislative Council. The Bill seeks to amend the Road Traffic Ordinance to provide a legal basis for the installation and operation of a new generation of parking meters with additional features. The new generation of parking meters will adopt a number of new features for the purpose of enhancing operational efficiency and bringing convenience to motorists. As Mr Frankie YICK mentioned earlier, the new generation of parking meters will accept multiple electronic payment means, including remote payment through a mobile application; will be equipped with space sensors to detect whether a parking space is occupied, and will provide real-time information to assist motorists in finding vacant parking spaces. As the Bill was deferred in its scrutiny, so were its amendments. Generally speaking, I support the Bill. I would like to declare that I am a private car user. However, as I seldom use on-street parking spaces, the chance of having a conflict of interest is unlikely. I would like to take this opportunity to make a few points about the Government’s policy on on-street parking spaces.

My first point is about the number of existing metered parking spaces. As at the end of August 2019, while there were in fact a total of 10 250 parking meters in Hong Kong, normally, only about 95% of them (i.e. approximately 9 700) could be put in daily operation due to the need for maintenance and regular testing. With one parking meter usually covering two parking spaces, 9 700 parking meters cover about 18 000 on-street parking spaces. According to the information of the Transport Department, as at the end of December 2019, there were a total of around 574 000 lic ensed private cars and 682 000 private car parking spaces in Hong Kong. In other words, the ratio of on-street parking spaces to private cars is 3.13%, whereas the ratio of total parking spaces to private cars is only 2.64%. The ratios are pitifully low.

The Government’s explanation is that on-street parking spaces are provided where they do not obstruct traffic. Yet, in the development of new towns, did the Government also plan for the provision of a minimum number of parking spaces? I hope the Government will give an account of this. Perhaps, on-street parking spaces were initially mainly meant to serve areas or town centres without large car parks to give convenience to motorists in need of temporary parking spaces. Nevertheless, considering that Hong Kong is persistently short of parking spaces, once a public car park is redeveloped, such as the one in Yau Ma Tei to be demolished for redevelopment, parking will suddenly become a big problem in the district concerned. Therefore, the Government should not take the provision of on-street parking spaces lightly for it is important in solving the parking problem. The Government should expedite the increase in on-street parking spaces apart from upgrading the features of existing parking meters.

The second point concerns the problem of prolonged parking. To discourage prolonged parking at on-street metered parking spaces, the longest parking time allowed for each transaction at parking meters has all along been fixed at 30 minutes, 1 hour or 2 hours, having regard to the traffic situation and parking demand in the vicinity of the parking meters concerned. President, notwithstanding the duration of the longest parking time allowed for each transaction at parking meters, a motorist can still lawfully park the same vehicle at the same metered parking space continuously for up to 24 hours so long as he/she continues to purchase additional parking time.

This arrangement was reviewed by the Transport and Housing Bureau. After the review, the Government has advised that in order to prevent continuous purchase of additional parking time through remote payment for prolonged parking, the mobile application will limit a motorist’s ability to buy parking time up to a total of two sessions of the “longest parking period” of the parking meter concerned.

With the installation of the new generation of parking meters, the authorities intend to reset and vary the “longest parking period” for the new parking meters from time to time having regard to local characteristics and changing circumstances of different districts. For instance, it would be user-friendly to allow parking meters located near country parks to be set with longer “longest parking periods”. Motorists who visit country parks can then make use of the mobile application to pay for parking fee for three hours on the spot and subsequently pay for additional parking time having regard to their needs up to a maximum of six hours. However, for parking meters located in busy areas, the “longest parking period” would be relatively shorter in order to enhance turnover.

President, the original intent of the Bill is worth supporting. But how should the Government implement the legislation and release the relevant information to the public to avoid confusion? This is where the Government’s wisdom comes into play. As the Bill is not going to amend the rule which allows parking at the same metered parking space for a continuous period of 24 hours, it means that a motorist may, after parking for two sessions of the “longest parking period”, continue to park at the same space simply by scanning the QR code again. The introduction of the new generation of parking meters is therefore no guarantee that the turnover of parking spaces will be enhanced. If the Government wishes to enhance turnover, it should consider taking resolute actions to, say, limit the maximum parking time to 12 hours, which is usually long enough to meet motorists’ needs.

The third point is about the technology adopted for the new generation of on-street parking meters. Each new parking meter will be equipped with a vehicle sensor to detect whether the relevant on-street parking space is occupied. Real-time parking vacancy information will then be disseminated to motorists for reference through the Transport Department’s mobile application HKeMobility and website, thereby reducing the time motorists spend circulating on roads. This initiative is commendable. Such information will also be sent to the Hong Kong Police Force for their reference and targeted enforcement action.

Mr Frankie YICK just now mentioned the enquiry of some Bills Committee members about the feasibility of using the new system to issue electronic penalty tickets instantly through the mobile application. According to the Administration, as the space sensors would not collect any personal data of individual motorists or vehicle identification numbers, it would not be possible to issue penalty tickets via the mobile application. This response sounds weird to me. President, if the Administration had listed all the smart functions required for the new system in its specifications, the system provider should have been able to work them out. The problem is that the Administration was not far-sighted enough to give thought to how this system can play a part in Hong Kong’s development into a smart city.

Lastly, I would like to point out that the Government has underestimated the financial implications of the new parking meter system. The Transport Department has already secured $304 million for the procurement of 12 300 new-generation parking meters.Separately, the management, operation and maintenance of the new generation of parking meters, as well as the engagement of service providers for handling the relevant tasks, are expected to incur a recurrent expenditure of roughly $52 million per annum.

According to the Government, the implementation of the new generation of parking meters is expected to generate additional government revenue, although a precise estimate on the quantum is not possible for the moment as it depends on the utilization of the on-street metered parking spaces. President, this remark is empty talk, as if saying “the Pope is Catholic”.

This is unacceptable to me. The Government’s failure to use past data for assessing the financial implications has also shown its lack of commitment. Frankly, if this project had been taken up by a commercial organization, it would have been turned down in the absence of critical analytical data. I can hardly understand why the Government would think that this kind of mindset is acceptable to the public. President, this legislative amendment exercise shows that the Administration still has much to do to improve its on-street parking space policy. It should not put aside the unsolved issues upon the passage of the Bill.

President, I so submit.