Hongkongers can test ride electric minibuses and cross-harbour ferries in 2023 as budget allocates HK$430 million for green-energy transport

Zoe Low

Hongkongers can expect to test ride electric minibuses and cross-harbour ferries in 2023 as HK$430 million (US$55 million) has been allocated to develop green-energy transport in the budget announced on Wednesday.

The Environment Bureau has unveiled a plan to develop the city’s road map to popularise electric vehicles to improve Hong Kong’s air quality.

“Minibuses are unique to Hong Kong’s road transport and we hope to help in funding the purchase of new electric minibuses and the building of charging facilities,” Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said on Thursday.

The Environment Bureau will allocate HK$80 million (US$10 million) for the purchase of 40 electric minibuses and to set up charging facilities along their routes.

I hope they do not build up expectations that they fail to deliver. The government should take this opportunity to include more commercial vehicles, such as the development of hydrogen buses and electric taxis

Patrick Fung, CEO, Clean Air Network

The pilot plan will mainly focus on green minibuses as these have set routes which will make it easier to build charging stations, Owin Fung Ho-yin, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Department, said.

Hongkongers can expect to test ride electric cross-harbour ferries in 2023. Photo: SCMP

Meanwhile, HK$350 million (US$45 million) has been allocated to help each of the four Victoria Harbour ferry operators purchase electric ferries and build charging facilities. “Although we anticipate challenges in setting up the infrastructure, we hope members of the public will get to ride the electric ferries by 2023,” Wong said.

The push for electric public transport comes along with a HK$2 billion (US$257 million) pilot scheme to subsidise the installation of electric vehicle parking spaces in private housing estates to increase adoption of green cars.

Hong Kong has about 13,600 electric cars, making up 2.1 per cent of all private vehicles in the city.

With the infrastructure preparations, the government hopes to encourage residents and businesses to switch to lower-emission vehicles and improve the city’s air quality. The government has also promised to renew Hong Kong’s Clean Air Plan, last tabled in 2013.

The road map for the popularisation of electric vehicles, which will fall under the Clean Air Plan, is expected to be revealed by the first quarter of 2021.

However, air pollution watchdog Clean Air Network warned that if the government’s road map for the use of electric vehicles included only minibuses, its scope would not be wide enough to improve the city’s air quality.

“I hope they do not build up expectations that they fail to deliver. The government should take this opportunity to include more commercial vehicles, such as the development of hydrogen buses and electric taxis,” Patrick Fung Kin-wai, CEO of Clean Air Network, said.

We already have up to 70 hybrid buses which can be converted to fully electric buses if we have the space for charging stations

Ling Chi-keung, chairman of the Public Light Bus General Association

Fung’s group had earlier found roadside emissions of nitrogen dioxide in Hong Kong in 2019 were 79 micrograms per cubic metre, almost double the WHO-recommended ceiling of 40 micrograms per cubic metre; while PM2.5 was 25 micrograms per cubic metre, 2.5 times the WHO-recommended level of 10 micrograms per cubic metre.

Meanwhile, Ling Chi-keung, chairman of the Public Light Bus General Association, said the funding to buy buses was impractical in the absence of any provision for land to build charging facilities.

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“We already have up to 70 hybrid buses which can be converted to fully electric buses if we have the space for charging stations,” Ling said. “Minibuses cannot use the charging stations in car parks for private cars.”

The budget also allocates another HK$200 million to set up a Green Tech Fund to encourage the development of green solutions to the city’s environmental problems.

The Environment Bureau will allocate HK$80 million for the purchase of 40 electric minibuses and to set up charging facilities along their routes. Photo: Fung Chang

The fund is expected to start accepting applications by the end of this year and priority will be given to projects that tackle waste, decarbonisation, and new energy solutions.

Another HK$300 million (US$39 million) is being allocated to help the waste paper recycling industry, with the government intervening to stabilise the market price of waste paper.

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The average price is currently between HK$0.4 to HK$0.5, after falling from HK$0.7 to HK$0.8 in December 2018 following lower demand for waste paper by factories in China caught in the crossfire of the US-China trade war.

“We will offer frontline waste collectors a price higher than the average,” Vicki Kwok Wong Wing-ki, deputy director of Environmental Protection Department, said.

The Environmental Protection Department will also hold an open tender for paper recyclers to take up local paper processing work as contractors, who will sort and package high-quality waste paper for export to other countries for recycling.

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