This week, the police advocated a hike in parking fines, which have remained the same for more than 20 years and are in stark contrast to the penalties faced by pedestrians.
Why do people get fined more than cars and why is Hong Kong ignoring a lucrative source of revenue?
It’s time to even the score.
A car illegally parks in a busy road: HK$320.
A person illegally steps on to a busy road: up to HK$2,000.
One blocks the streets, disrupts traffic and belches carbon monoxide.
The other crosses a road.
When transport advisers fret about road congestion, they do not cite the scourge of pedestrians.
But for simple traffic violations, you are financially better off being in a car than going on foot.
If drivers ignore traffic signs, road markings, zebra and school crossings, the fixed penalties are far from prohibitive (HK$320 to HK$450).
Idling engines: HK$320.
Driving while on a mobile phone: HK$320.
If you spit, smoke or drop litter: HK$1,500.
Last year, more than a million fixed-penalty parking tickets were issued – this amounts to one every 26 seconds — although they may have missed a few spots in Central frequented by fat cats where cars are perpetually parked three deep.
The figures keep going up and reflect the fact that there are now 40 percent more cars on the road now than there were 10 years ago.
Yet the penalty is stuck at 1994 prices.
In Britain and the United States, the penalties pack a punch, ranging from US$60 to US$515 in Manhattan and 80 pounds (US$122) to 130 pounds in London.
Traffic wardens in councils across Britain are renowned for their ruthlessness.
In Hong Kong, on a simple cost analysis, the risk of an occasional ticket is a fraction of monthly car parking charges.
It lacks any deterrent effect.
It also deprives the coffers of easy money.
At best, HK$320 million was accrued last year in parking ticket penalties.
This assumes everyone paid.
The figure could skyrocket overnight if a recommendation made in December by the Transport Advisory Committee to increase the penalty to HK$448 was adopted or policymakers brought the fines on a par with those in financial centres in the US and Europe.
Politically, it would pit the vested interests of about 700,000 vehicle owners against a population of seven million who mostly take public transport.
Politicians and civil servants who would most likely be the recipients of the higher penalty could take the sting out of their own personal sacrifice by basking in the appreciation of Joe Public, increasingly prone to take to the streets over quality of life issues.
Ultimately, a great opportunity is being missed to not only boost the coffers but strike a small blow for people who like to walk places without being asphyxiated or take public transport without sitting in traffic for hours.
At the very least, the yawning gap between car and man could be narrowed.
About 20,000 pedestrians were prosecuted last year for traffic offences.
Many of these prosecutions would have been a result of the quarterly crackdowns seen in areas such as Central, where traffic police lie in wait for unwitting pedestrians who run the gauntlet at major crossings.
They are fish in a barrel, and just 50 meters away, drivers sit with engines running outside major buildings waiting to collect their retail-weary employers, blocking traffic.
It only drives home the disparity.
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