【明報專訊】PUBLIC opposition to the cross-boundary private cars ad hoc quota trial scheme is mounting, the main reason being that no details have been published since the HKSAR government announced the drift of the scheme last year.
It is more than a decade since Hong Kong's restoration to China, and with the steady increase in the flow of people and cargo between Hong Kong and the mainland, Hong Kong's integration with the mainland is already an irreversible trend. Arrangements for private cars to travel under prescribed conditions between the two places should therefore be devised and implemented.
As the current application procedures for a license to drive in both Hong Kong and mainland China are very complicated, most private car owners in Hong Kong who would like to travel to the Pearl Delta region cannot drive in their own cars. Therefore, as long as mainland cars are not to come to Hong Kong, Hong Kong people under normal circumstances are not likely to be much opposed to an arrangement that allows Hong Kong cars into Guangdong. However, the cross-boundary private cars quota scheme about to be launched has run up against strong opposition, partly as a result of the escalating conflict caused by the Individual Visit Scheme and the "mainland pregnant women" problem.
Many Hong Kong people fear that the implementation of the scheme would result in a large number of mainland cars coming to Hong Kong, just as the Individual Visit Scheme has led to a huge influx of individual visitors. It is feared that Hong Kong's road network would not be able to cope with the increased volume of traffic, that left-hand drive cars from the mainland could not comply with Hong Kong's traffic regulations, that the low-quality petrol they use would exacerbate air pollution problems, and that a mainland driver might even evade responsibility by returning to the mainland after causing a traffic accident. These are fears that the government must consider and address openly.
Under an agreement concluded between Guangdong and Hong Kong in August last year, Hong Kong private car owners may apply for ad hoc quotas that will allow their cars to travel in 21 cities in Guangdong. However, details about the number of ad hoc quotas, the application criteria, and whether instruction classes will have to be attended are still to be worked out. As a result of the recent conflict between mainlanders and Hong Kong people, the HKSAR government is faced with questions about the details, and unable to give a clear reply it can only stress that the first phase of the trial scheme does not allow mainland cars to enter Hong Kong. This serves to make people more anxious about the scheme.
Today some people go so far as to set themselves against the first phase of the scheme, which only allows Hong Kong cars to enter Guangdong. But as no mainland cars are coming to Hong Kong and there can be no threat to Hong Kong's road safety, we believe the opposition will die down when the scheme is implemented and its actual benefits perceived. The first phase of the scheme therefore need not be postponed. As for the ad hoc quotas allowing mainland private cars to enter Hong Kong, every regulation must be worked out carefully to ensure, for instance, that the problems of traffic congestion and air pollution will not get worse, and car drivers involved in traffic accidents can be traced effectively. The public must also be consulted to reduce their anxiety.
The way a policy is received is often decided by the way it is formulated. If the formulation process is a black-box operation and nothing is announced till the last minute, the policy not only won't benefit from the wisdom of the public, but is also more likely to meet with public opposition. The government should learn from the controversy arising from the first phase of the scheme, and must not repeat its mistake.