A conversation with Swedish experts about the future of Hong Kong. Is the Hong Kong-style electric bus just around the corner?

The city is quieter, the air is cleaner, and the commuting expenses are cheaper… This vision should be proposed by the government that often says “cherish Hong Kong.” But even the Swedes know that our government never put such vision in reality.

 

Born and raised in Sweden, Alexander Mastrovito worked for Scania, a well known Swedish car manufacturer. He has been stationed in Hong Kong for 7 years and is in charge of sustainable transportation solutions among the Asia-Pacific region. After he came to Hong Kong, he also served as an associate researcher at Civic Exchange and participated in the lobbying work for transportation-related legislation. He is currently studying the timetable and feasible solutions for local road transport to zero emissions, including franchised buses, trucks, and taxis.

 

Alexander said that sustainable development has been considered as the priority of public policy in Sweden for many years. When he learnt that diesel vehicles will be phased out within 10 to 20 years, an announcement made by the Secretary for the Environment of Hong Kong, Wong Kam-sing, he commented “this goal cannot be achieved without the actual legislation”. From the Budget 2020-21 announced by the Financial Secretary, we learnt that the government would formulate Hong Kong’s first roadmap on the use of electric vehicles. Alexander believes that it is high time to present the research the team has been working on.

 

 

Does the government have a long-term plan for zero-emission vehicles? 

 

In the report (to be released), the research team lists out the timetable for the elimination of diesel vehicles for each vehicle type. Alexander believes that the vision of fully switching to zero-emission vehicles is possible to happen. When the importance of reducing pollution, fighting climate issues, protecting everyone’s health has already been acknowledged. People should put their focus on how to make things happen. 

 

Speaking of franchised buses, Hong Kong purchased more than 30 electric buses for trial use in the early years, however, most buses are not fully utilised. Alexander understands that it is still very expensive to adopt new technologies on a large scale. In fact, it is the same challenge faced by many cities, and extra taxation might be required in order to make up for such transition. But in the long run, operation costs of electric vehicles should be cheaper than diesel vehicles. Alexander believes that the Hong Kong government can overcome such challenges, only if they are determined enough to make changes. 

 

He explained that the electrification of buses can be divided into three stages. First, is the pre-study stage, to see how new technologies can be applied in your city. Second, is the pilot stage, a small percentage of electric vehicles should be introduced. London and Singapore, these cities are now experiencing the second stage. He said, “the government can proceed to a long term plan when more than 10% of buses are electrified, it is also known as the trail production stage”. Finally, is the broader adoption stage, where the transition from diesel vehicles to electric vehicles should be completed. 

 

However, Hong Kong is barely in the first stage. 

 

Create the local masterpiece again 

 

As a member of the industry, Alexander said that European bus factories have worked closely with Hong Kong bus operating companies to design a high-quality bus fleet. He said, “There is no bus anywhere in the world like Hong Kong. This unique design is jointly created by the industry. It is a successful model.” And since the European design could not meet the local market’s needs, to smoothen the transition, the Hong Kong government must be clear about the procedure. For instance, the non-electric single-deck buses will not be introduced within 10 years;  and double-deck buses will not be introduced within 15 years. These measures should be announced to help the manufactures adapt to the changes. 

 

Hong Kong owns a large fleet of 6,000 franchised buses, which is absolutely profitable for manufacturers. But practically speaking, Alexander points out that the entire industry needs to change when it emerges, especially the European car factories. The vehicle manufacturers and battery factories must be aligned to meet the global demand on electric buses. The industry will only accommodate the market’s needs when the government’s development direction is clear. 

 

And so, Hong Kong must first be clear about her position and needs. 

 

Patrick Fung, Chief Executive Officer of Clean Air Network (left)

Alexander Mastrovito (right) 

 

The future is destined to be changed

 

The potential benefits brought by zero-emission vehicles are generally agreed by many. Designed in Hong Kong and assembled in Europe and Mainland China, it is believed that such manufacturing mode can fit Hong Kong’s market better. Nevertheless, the public is still not confident with such plan, especially when the government is unsure and unclear about the specific measures. For that, Clean Air Network is consulting various stakeholders, including businessmen such as Alexander, scholars, bus companies, and citizens. They gather the opinion from many, propose them to the government, and hope to speed up the zero-emission vehicles program.  

 

Alexander said that electric vehicles are a disruptive technology, which is destined to subvert the existing economic models. He added, “it’s not easy to change one’s mind, plus the new technology requires more money, it’s common to see people refuse to make changes”. The question here is, whether our government can keep their promises and give Hong Kong people a cleaner and better future. 

 

Zero-emission transportation is the right direction. “It’s now the time to tell the government what we want”, said Alexander. 

 

(Editor’s note: Hong Kong people have been exposed to high levels of air pollution for a long time. We are exposed to toxic air every day and it is affecting our health. While many other cities around the world have set clear zero-emission targets and adopt zero-emission buses on a large scale, Hong Kong is far behind. Clean Air Network invites experts, scholars and doctors who are concerned about air pollution and sustainable transportation development to find the crux of the problem and discuss how Hong Kong buses can “get ahead” to achieve zero-emission.)

 

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