Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Let’s face it: Hong Kong will never fix its illegal parking problem

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-24

Yonden Lhatoo shares readers’ sense of despair and disgust over the city’s total inability to bite the bullet and do what it really takes to curb illegal parking

I watched a sad little circus in our Legislative Council this week. Stopping short of calling the performers a bunch of bozos, I would say they might as well have put on clown costumes and make-up to complete the picture.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum stymied the government’s long-overdue proposal to raise penalties for illegal parking by 50 per cent from next June.

It wasn’t enough for them that this is already a ridiculously benign effort to crack down on a problem that is a scourge of Hong Kong when it comes to quality of life. The plan is to raise penalties for different kinds of parking offences from HK$320 and HK$450 to HK$480 and HK$680. The amount will be commensurate with the severity of the offence, with drivers who pick up or drop off passengers in a restricted zone, for example, paying the stiffest fine.

This city hasn’t toughened its illegal parking penalties since 1994. For added context, the fine for littering is HK$1,500, and it’s a draconian HK$2,000 for jaywalking. Go figure.

In a jaw-dropping, twilight-zone moment, someone even called for fines to be lowered

Anyway, back in the big top, the argument presented by our elected representatives in favour of maintaining this ludicrous status quo was that the main reason for the problem was car ownership increasing faster than the growth of parking spaces. In a jaw-dropping, twilight-zone moment, someone even called for fines to be lowered. Yep, that ought to do it, Einstein.

Some problems in Hong Kong are just unfixable. This isn’t one of them. But it will never be fixed because of vested interests and a total lack of guts or will on the part of those in a position to do something about it.

Instead of my own commentary this time, let me quote our readers to break it down for you.

“90 per cent of Hong Kong residents don’t have cars. They are the sane ones – or the poor ones. Those with cars should have a fine of several thousand dollars for illegal parking. The fine could be reduced for delivery vehicles.

“HK$680 is what these people pay for dessert. Proportional fines would work best; with Inland Revenue already having access to your tax returns, it shouldn’t be difficult to coordinate with the police/courts over fines. They could even be automatically stacked up on top of your tax next year.”

“Make it easier for police and traffic wardens to issue tickets; give them an app with GPS and they can photo the offender, issue ticket by email. At the moment they have to handwrite in triplicate, and most appear too lazy to do so!”

If affluent Hongkongers are fearless in the face of fines, why not simply start deducting points from their driving licences? The threat of losing their right to drive ought to make these incorrigibles toe the line. Or start a vigorous culture of towing away offending vehicles to teach them a lesson.

It’s so simple, but try running that past our feeble-minded politicians and weak-willed transport authorities. And don’t forget that the police may be part of the problem, with their half-hearted enforcement.

“Traffic police simply ask the drivers to move on and all they do is drive around the block and park back in the same place as the police officers have simply walked on.”

“An offence is 24/7, 365! Not a one-week advertised crackdown. That must be the dumbest law enforcement tactic. No wonder drivers constantly break the law.”

Conclusion: it’s hopeless. I’ll just leave you with this little gem seen online that would sum up the attitude of so many Hong Kong drivers: “Somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a note on my windscreen which said, ‘Parking Fine’. That was nice …”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post


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Hong Kong taxi drivers should welcome a premium service that will meet consumer demand

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-23

Anthony Cheung believes the 600 new franchised cabs will meet people’s demand for higher-quality rides. Hong Kong can well accommodate two types of service, and the taxi trade should not see change as a threat

 

Responses from the public and taxi trade to the Hong Kong government’s latest proposal on franchised taxis seem to be quite diverse. The public generally welcomes the new choice and calls for its early introduction, whereas some members of the taxi trade are worried about the impact of the new service on existing taxis.

The government has been listening to views in the community. We first mooted the idea of a premium taxi service in November 2015, to meet the community’s demand for personalised public transport services of higher quality. We have met members of the taxi trade, unions and other stakeholders through various channels, and we have been monitoring public opinion and media comments.

Adjustments were made to the preliminary proposals put forward last June, to address the concerns of the taxi trade on the one hand, and to better meet passengers’ demand for a more efficient and higher-quality “online car hailing” service on the other hand.

The 600 franchised taxis to be introduced represent only about 3 per cent of the 18,000-odd taxis in Hong Kong. Hence, they should not be seen as a threat to the survival of ordinary taxis.

Their role is to bridge the gap in the existing taxi market and respond to a very clear demand for new choice. With differentials in fare levels as well as operating and service features (at least half of the taxis in the new fleets are required to have wheelchair access), the move will help define two complementary taxi sectors. As an international city, Hong Kong can accommodate two types of taxis to meet diversified demand, just like, for example, Singapore and Tokyo.

In response to the concern of some trade members about an unrestrained number of franchised taxis in future, the government has now proposed to stipulate a statutory cap on the number of franchised taxis at 600. Any future adjustment of the cap will require a legislative amendment.

Having regard to the views of the taxi trade, the government may consider relaxing the proposed mandatory tendering requirement to have a formal employer-employee relationship between the franchisee and the drivers.

Yet, we still consider an employer-employee relationship conducive to providing employment stability for drivers and attracting new blood to the trade. Hence, tenderers’ specific proposals for monitoring the service quality of drivers, as well as their reward and penalty system, will be an essential criterion for assessment.

To address the concern that existing taxi operators may be excluded from participating in the franchised taxi market, the government now proposes to give a higher score to tenderers with experience in operating taxi and other public transport services in Hong Kong, provided they will operate the new service under the franchise model. We further propose that operators be required to pay a franchise fee.

Some worry that the launch of franchised taxis may aggravate traffic congestion.

Looking at it from a different perspective, the target clientele of franchised taxis will include some private car commuters; hence franchised taxis may actually help reduce the number of private cars on the road.

In response to the taxi trade’s concern about the shortage of drivers, we consider that appropriate facilitating measures (including proper driver training and more stable and better-protected employment arrangements) will help attract new blood to the trade.

The government is reviewing the existing requirement that applicants for driving licences of commercial vehicles (including taxis) must have held a valid licence for driving a private car or light goods vehicle for at least three years.

Franchised taxis are a new choice for passengers who need a premium service, while existing taxis, with their lower fares, will continue to provide the bulk of the taxi service for the general public.

As such, the government will certainly not abandon the existing 18,000 or so taxis. We will continue to work closely with the trade to explore how to improve the existing taxi service and formulate proactive measures.

In the course of studying the launch of franchised taxis, the government has listened to the views of the whole community, not just those of the taxi trade. We are not working behind closed doors. The public demands more choices and reforms. We have to think out of the box and act responsibly.

Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung is Hong Kong’s secretary for transport and housing


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Why Hong Kong and Singapore must help their airlines soar

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-22

Derwin Pereira says no laissez-faire principles can be prized more than the symbolic importance of Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines to each territory

When unbearable abdominal pain attacks you while you are flying 37,000 feet above the Pacific, hours away from your destination, you literally are at the mercy of the cabin crew. How they react depends on the culture of the airline, the crew’s practical training, and, finally, on a visceral capacity for human responsiveness.

I fell ill, with what was diagnosed later as a kidney stone attack, two hours into a recent Singapore Airlines flight from San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong. Members of the inflight staff gave me medication based on the advice of specialists on the ground. When the flight landed in Hong Kong, an ambulance was ready for me. So was a member of the airline staff who chaperoned me to the nearest hospital. I was on the next flight home after the check-up.

During my detour through Hong Kong, thinking about Singapore Airlines naturally made me take a comparative look at Cathay Pacific.

Both are premium Asian airlines. Both symbolise the audacious international reach of the minuscule territories where they originated. Both are under pressure from upstarts in other parts of Asia and even in their own regional backyards. Both have loyal customers who see them as national possessions. And both need their governments to accord them the courtesy given to national institutions.

Consider Singapore Airlines. I fly it because I am Singaporean. The airline is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. For me, though, its provenance dates from 1972, when it became the national carrier of Singapore seven years into the country’s independence.

The airline represents for me the capacity of a man-made institution to outwit hostile natural circumstances through Darwinian determinism. The ethic of survival and success, which motivated Singapore from the first moment of its independence, is written into the airline’s rationale. Singapore Airlines is to the skies what Singapore is to the land.

The airline is a national icon. In Singapore’s internationalised economic space, it is comparable in symbolic significance with the civil service and the Singapore Armed Forces. The civil service has overseen a city state’s transformation from third world to first world. The military ensures that the city remains a state.

Commercially, Singapore Airlines is Singapore’s face to the world, offering the first glimpse of what this country offers to foreigners. Those unimpressed with its standards are unlikely to be enchanted by the nation which lies beyond Changi Airport.

For Singaporeans, to whom the world does not owe a living, Singapore Airlines is a concrete example of how an unexpected nation can make a living, and a reasonably good one at that.

Cathay Pacific, I’d imagine, occupies a similar place in the Hong Kong public imagination. It began life as an airline that capitalised on its Asian locale even in colonial Hong Kong. Two decades into the city’s return to China, Cathay is not only a Chinese airline but also a Hong Kong Chinese airline, its mystique distinguished clearly from the larger cultural context in which mainland Chinese airlines operate.

Symbolically, Cathay is to Hong Kong’s autonomy in the air what the territory’s political and economic institutions are to its special status on the ground. To put it bluntly, Air China is, and is seen as, a Chinese airline, and in the larger framework of Chinese aviation, Cathay was, is and will be a Hong Kong airline.

This is why governments, like their peoples, need to view iconic airlines in special ways.

There is one impediment. Both Singapore and Hong Kong made their mark on the international economy by practising largely laissez-faire policies. Economic nationalism was a suicidal idea because it meant that small entities could be excluded legitimately from larger markets for political or ethnic reasons. Whatever the good or the service involved – whether apparel or airlines – economic access to the global hinterland was essential for Hong Kong and Singapore.

After all, Singapore Airlines could hardly fly from Changi to Seletar – where there’s an airport serving private jets – any more than Cathay could fly from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. Economic territorialism outside their borders spells physical doom.

Propelled on by the salutary limitations of domestic geography, Singapore and its Singapore Airlines, and Hong Kong and its Cathay remained a bridge between the contending worlds of capitalism and communism even during the cold war.

That was then. Today, West Asian airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways are leveraging on their geographical position between Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, the Pacific routes from Singapore and Hong Kong are up for grabs to regional challengers, not least from mainland China itself. Sovereign wealth funds help fuel the rise of some West Asian airlines. Flagship carriers in China or Malaysia have national coffers to fall back on.

To mix metaphors, there is no reason for Hong Kong or Singapore to abjure the sink-or-swim philosophy that made their airlines great. But they must ensure that those airlines do not now sink because other countries are intent on keeping their airlines shipshape.

Singapore Airlines and Cathay must take to the skies, carrying the aspiration of millions inscribed into their names.

Derwin Pereira heads Pereira International, a Singapore-based political consultancy. He is also a member of Harvard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs


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Why every Hong Kong MTR station is a different colour – the reason may surprise you

LifestyleTravel & Leisure
2016-12-08
When Hong Kong’s mass transit railway lines were being built, it was decided the stations should be colourful to beautify them, and different colours were chosen to help travellers who couldn’t read identify them

Mong Kok is red, Admiralty is blue, and no one passing through Choi Hung MTR station can fail to spot the rainbow-streaked pillars at the platform. You may think the vibrantly coloured tiled walls of Hong Kong’s mass transit railway system mirror the city’s energy, but that’s not why contrasting colours were chosen for its stations.

The main reason bright colours were adopted when the first line opened in the 1970s was to lighten up the subway system, according to Andrew Mead, the MTR Corporation’s chief architect. With no windows or natural light, underground platforms can be gloomy. Bright colours are associated with beauty, and they bring a dash of that to the mostly subterranean stations, he says.

The corporation could have chosen a neutral white design. But Mead says an important factor in picking different colours was function. Underground, where there are no landmarks to look out for like when you’re travelling by bus or car, colour helped differentiate the MTR stations, and gave each their own identity. That was important, Mead says, because “back in the 1970s, there was still a high level of illiteracy” in the city. It was not until 1971 that Hong Kong launched a programme of free compulsory education.

“If you can’t read, either English or Chinese, how would you recognise a station?” The palette was therefore deliberately planned to help commuters navigate the network, says Mead, who worked for Singapore’s Land Transport Authority before joining the MTR Corp in February 2013. 

The first MTR line opened in 1979, connecting Shek Kip Mei with the booming industrial area of Kwun Tong. In 1982, the Tsuen Wan Line commenced operation, followed in 1985 by the Island Line.

As the railway system extended its tentacles, the colour coding became more pronounced.

For key stations, Mead says, different shades of red were used. The bold red in the Tsuen Wan, Mong Kok and Central stations was intended to alert passengers that they had arrived at an interchange or terminus.

In developing the colour coding, Mead says, the MTR Corp was careful to avoid using the same tone for successive stations. For instance, blue is the hue at Mei Foo, in sharp contrast to the red stations of Lai King and Lai Chi Kok.

However, it takes some lateral thinking to make sense of the colour used at a few of the platforms. Some were simply derived from the Chinese names of the stops. For example, the rainbow colours of Choi Hung station are a vivid example of the literal translation from Cantonese: choi hung means rainbow. Yellow is the colour of Wong Tai Sin station because the word wong means yellow. Lai Chi Kok station is a pinky red because lai chi means lychee. Prince Edward station is purple because it’s commonly associated with royalty in Britain, the city’s former colonial ruler.

The architects also used a variety of colours to creatively convey the meaning of names at certain stations. An example is Diamond Hill. The tiles plastered on the walls and pillars at the station are mainly black, but dotted with small white tiles to produce the sparkling effect of a diamond when seen from different angles.

Other stations were designed using colours that take into account the local environment.

“Whampoa station is blue because it’s close to the water. Ho Man Tin station is green because it’s a part of the hill, and that’s really how that colour was chosen. Nothing’s really more sophisticated than that, and this makes it distinctive,” Mead says.

The MTR Corp broke with tradition, however, in the design of stations along the Airport Express, which are a more subdued grey. That’s because the company regards it as an extension of the airport, Mead explains. Norman Foster, the British architect who designed the airport – and the HSBC Building in Central – is not known for his use of colour. In fact, in the industry, Mead says, architects often refer to “Foster grey” because it’s his preferred shade for most of his projects.

So MTR architects decided to capitalise on this distinct colouring – or lack of it. “The Airport Express, Kowloon and Hong Kong stations are all the same grey,” Mead says. “As soon as you go to Kowloon station, as soon as you go to Hong Kong station, you feel like you are at the airport. It’s the extension of the airport from Lantau into the city.”

However, the Airport Express is not all grey. There are splashes of colour in works of art the architects integrated into stations, blending colour and functionality.

Mead cites local artist Gaylord Chan’s work, Swift and Safe – picturing a rocket in space – between the Hong Kong and Central stations, as an example. He says the piece is all about the movement of people, and people passing by at speed, which reflects the passage’s function as a transit area.

Meanwhile, Mead says, a diverse collection of art has been added to older stations. That includes the chubby bronze ballerina sculptures by Chinese artist Yin Zhixin at Choi Hung station – one of the oldest. A brighter example is Ng Yuen-wa’s Life in Mei Foo – Now and Then, in Mei Foo station. Its 16 vividly painted panels depict the lives of the neighbourhood’s residents, enjoying the Mid-Autumn Festival, spending time in a park or just relaxing at home.

“These are all curated. It’s not just about picking a nice picture; it’s about making sure it resonates with the people going through,” Mead says.

For the newer stations, the MTR Corp is starting to integrate art and colour in a more sophisticated way, he says.

For example, at Ocean Park station – set to open on December 28 along with the rest of the South Island Line – different shades of blue have been used because it’s the colour that most obviously represents the theme park. However, there is also a chrome-plated sculpture depicting a school of fish. The design of the station represents the sea, and the creatures at Ocean Park, but it is also functional. By following the movement of fish pictured on the walls, visitors can find their way to the exit or the platforms, Mead says.

Such functional artwork and meaningful colours are integrated so seamlessly on the MTR, though, that you’d be forgiven for not noticing them.


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Why electric cars aren’t the best route to truly sustainable transport in Hong Kong

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-05-05

Evan Auyang

Evan Auyang says a green transport policy must include steps to curb the huge growth in vehicle numbers, adopt more technology, and promote walking and cycling

Hail the adoption of electric cars in Hong Kong! Already a bestseller in the city, electric car maker Tesla recently announced it will soon launch a more affordable model. Crowds lined up at Tesla’s three showrooms across Hong Kong, even though the car won’t be ready until 2017. “It is very important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport,” declared Telsa’s chief executive officer Elon Musk.

Is Hong Kong finally moving towards a more sustainable transport system? The government is certainly doing its share to promote the adoption of electric vehicles, having built more than 1,000 charging points across the city and offering tax incentives for the purchase of the cars. Indeed, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah personally leads the Steering Committee on the Promotion of Electric Vehicles, which includes six other secretaries (or their representatives), including the environment, transport and development secretaries, as well as business leaders in the sector. This indicates the importance the government places on the issue.

And let’s not forget, Hong Kong is No 1 in the world in terms of adoption of public transport. Ninety per cent of motorised journeys are made on public transport such as railways, buses and minibuses. This, coupled with the continued building of railways and the introduction of electric buses, plus increasing adoption of private electric cars, must mean Hong Kong is heading towards having the most sustainable transport system in the world, right? Not quite.

Hong Kong lags significantly behind the rest of the world in at least three areas of sustainable transport policymaking: road space and congestion management; adoption of technology; and embracing cycling and walking as a popular means of longer-distance transport.

First, Hong Kong does not have a good vision of road space usage. This is clear from the worsening congestion on our roads, which is spreading beyond the traditionally busy areas such as Central. Now, traffic jams are common in Kowloon East (supposedly the emerging second central business district), Sha Tin, Tseung Kwan O, Tuen Mun and even Yuen Long.

The cause is the unprecedented rise in the number of vehicles on the roads in recent years, particularly private cars. From 2006 to 2016, the number of private cars has increased by 46 per cent, from 390,000 to 570,000, while the population has risen by less than 7 per cent. This alone accounts for 95 per cent of the increase in the total number of vehicles over the past 10 years. Hong Kong’s road building averages less than 1 per cent (in kilometre terms) per year. This means the number of vehicles is growing much faster than our roads can accommodate.

The impact of uncontrolled vehicle growth cannot be underestimated. As congestion mounts, the road-based public transport system (that is, buses and minibuses), which carries 50 per cent of public transport users, deteriorates in performance. Indeed, average bus speeds have fallen significantly in recent years. Because railways cannot reach all areas of Hong Kong and are generally deemed uncomfortable during peak hours, this would spur the increasing adoption of private cars. A vicious cycle is then produced, of even more vehicles on the road and even more desire to own a car for comfort and convenience. In fact, this is precisely what has been happening in the past few years.

Roads are like the blood vessels of a city – when they clog, economic activity slows. It’s possible to think of a handful of cities that have never lived up to their potential, such as Beijing, Bangkok and Mumbai, as the best international talent does not wish to live in severely congested cities.

Second, Hong Kong has been slow to adopt many sustainable transport and “smart city” practices. While it is truly world-class in its ability to build infrastructure, the city is not at the forefront in the adoption of IT-enabled demand-management tools. For example, many cities have heavily invested in smart information technology systems to control traffic flows, with major roads managed by sensors and cameras.

Illegally parked cars are ticketed from traffic control rooms rather than relying on physical enforcement. In Hong Kong, illegal parking takes up 60 per cent of traffic police time.

In congestion-conscious cities like London, smart systems have been implemented to automatically manage traffic flows along major corridors on a real-time basis. Where traffic flows are determined to be less than optimal, algorithms automatically adjust the phases of traffic signals.

Singapore has already established working groups to look into driverless vehicles. By utilising the research and development know-how of the private sector, it is on the cusp of launching a pilot driverless bus service as well as on-demand private driverless car services and shuttles. For Hong Kong to be a truly world-class city, we need to get to the cutting edge of technological adoption, and research and development.

Third, Hong Kong has yet to embrace the truly green options of walking and cycling. Globally, international cities have implemented new policies to promote these non-motorised forms of transport. Cities are now increasingly aware that walking is actually the most efficient and greenest way to travel short distances and, as a result, have invested heavily in widening pavements and closing off vehicle lanes to create green space.

Pedestrianisation around New York’s Times Square has led to a dramatic fall in motorised traffic, while also cleaning up the air and allowing more tourists to take a pleasant stroll and shop in the area. Politically, this was very difficult initially, but citizens embraced the idea soon after it was implemented.

We must recognise that true sustainable transport goes well beyond just applauding the increased adoption of private electric vehicles and upgrading the city’s bus fleet and polluting diesel trucks. A more holistic approach is needed to imagine, then create, greener urban spaces for our future. It takes planning and execution. Moreover, it takes vision, knowledge and political courage to generate the right discussions to enable even small steps to be taken.

Evan Auyang is a board director of the independent think tank Civic Exchange