On-street parking will remain at 1994 levels – HK$8/hour – under the government’s “smart parking” law likely to be pushed through LegCo’s House Committee next week, with the government blaming economic and social conditions for the 26-year price freeze.
“In the light of the recent economic and social conditions in Hong Kong, we have proactively re-visited the proposed increase in maximum [parking] fee. To avoid increasing the financial burden of motorists and the transport trades, the Government has decided to withhold the proposed increase in the fee,” says the government.
Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen earlier called the parking fees “a pittance”. “If you find [commercial] parking at HK$15-20 per hour in Hong Kong you would think it is very cheap,” he said. Tse added that the new occupancy sensors linked to the smart meters wouldn’t actually help with illegal parking, “If you rely on law enforcement agencies, it will use a lot of manpower and resources. A lot of users will think luck is on their side and they will try their luck,” he said.
The smart parking initiative will cost HK$304 million, with an annual recurring cost of HK$52 million, according to Winnie Tse Wing-yee, Deputy Secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport) at Transport and Housing Bureau.
The scheme will replace over 10,000 parking meters with solar-powered meters which can take new payment methods including UnionPay QuickPass and QR codes for WeChat payments. Users can also top up their parking remotely through a government app.
But while new sensors in the street can detect whether a parking meter is illegally occupied, the government will not share live data with law enforcement. Data instead would be “compiled into a report for the Transport Department”, which could show long-term trends at particular spots and help law enforcement take targeted actions.
In defence of its approach, the government said it wanted to strike a balance with privacy issues. “The sensors will only be there to tell us whether a parking space is occupied. The new meters will not capture license plate numbers or do any video recording,” said Winnie Tse. “We have respect for privacy,” she said.
Winnie Tse also warned there would be a loophole in that the system couldn’t detect the different between a traffic cone or pallet placed on a parking meter sensor to indicate to the parking app that the space was occupied. “We expect the public will make use of this loophole,” said Tse, “and we will encourage the contractor to investigate.”
Tony Tse was not satisfied with the government response. “I don’t want this project to become a laughing-stock,” he said, “We have all this talk about smart city and it [often] turns out the facilities put in place are not smart at all,” he warned.
The bill will now reach the House on 4 November, with a source who preferred to remain anonymous predicting it will pass into law without opposition and will become effective in mid-December.