Anyone who’s ever lived and driven a car overseas knows Hong Kong drivers do not fear the one thing out-of-towners do: the tow-away zone.
Ticketing is a major disincentive to illegal parking in many cities around the world (if you can take a car into the downtown area to begin with, which is another story); the threat of having your car towed away and impounded – at the owner’s cost – is very real, and keeps many drivers from pushing their luck for “just 15 minutes…”
That’s not the case in Hong Kong, where double parking has become the scourge of bus drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
Hong Kong’s infrastructure has a great deal to do with its double-parking plague, as even the widest streets can be too small for the sheer volume of traffic the roads carry every day.
More carparks could ease the burden, but underground or otherwise, they would seem like a waste of precious space in a city constantly staring down the barrel of residential and office supply shortages.
Then there’s the real estate itself. Of Hong Kong’s 40,000-plus buildings, many of which are from the early post-war period, few commercial or residential properties have cargo doors and dedicated delivery entrances that get lorries off the roads.
On the residential front, the roads are particularly clogged during the moving season – September and May – as moving vans have few options but to pull up to the kerb in front of an apartment block and move as quickly as possible.
The only way, maybe, to get illegal double parking reduced is to reduce the number of cars on the streets.
Comprehensive and affordable public transit would seem to make the need for cars moot, but the appeal of a shiny, new, high-tech and environmentally conscious car is too much for many of us to resist.
That’s why incentivizing car purchases needs rethinking. Offering tax cuts and other benefits to bus companies that switch to cleaner vehicles is not the same as offering tempting discounts to individual drivers, whose cars usually carry one passenger.
And who then double park to pick up, maybe, one more.
Another way to cut down illegal double parking and, arguably, most likely to have significant impact, is to make the infraction truly painful.
Currently, offenders are fined HK$1,500 for spitting or littering, as much as HK$2,000 for jaywalking, but only HK$320 for illegal parking.
Should recent government proposals be adopted, parking fines would be increased to just under HK$500, hardly an amount that would make most drivers sweat.
But there’s still hope: some advocates are making serious noise about HK$2,000 parking fines.
The spot fines brought spitting to a nearly screeching halt during SARS outbreak; there’s no reason the same thing wouldn’t happen with stiffer parking fines.
With an increase in fines, one critical element to successfully decrease the amount of illegal parking is the serious commitment by police and the government to enforce fines.
In turn, the illegal parking problem can gradually improve, allowing traffic to flow smoothly on the already narrow streets around the city.
One shortcoming, though – while increasing fines can somehow deter illegal parking, it may benefit the owners of those parking spaces as parking fare will be lifted as well.
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