A pilot scheme to overhaul the skip industry has come under immediate fire, with two of the first skips certified found to be already in breach of key road safety and environmental regulations.
The government’s long-overdue pilot skip licence scheme aims to retrofit 30 roadside skips to meet “road safety and environmental requirements”, seven years after a scathing Audit Commission (AC) report found zero percent of roadside skips were in compliance.
But two of the 30 certified skips, spotted outside 36 Queen’s Road Central this week, were both in breach of Transport Department (TD) regulations which say skips should not be placed within 25 metres of a pedestrian crossing. The skips were placed around 15 metres from the D’Aguilar Street/Queen’s Road Central pedestrian crossing.
The two skips – licensed A0027 and A0029 – were adorned with the government’s “Big Waster” graphics advertising the new licensing scheme, but were also painted red, in breach of TD regulations, which dictate skips should be painted yellow for road safety reasons. Both skips were also overloaded, using plywood to extend the height of the skip walls, a practice discouraged by the regulations.
On 6 December, the QR codes on the skip licence plates linked to a website showing photos of the skips – that website has since been taken down and replaced with an “under testing” notice.
As the rules are voluntary, no government department has the power to enforce or punish violators. Both TD and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) say skips found blocking public roads may trigger enforcement action from Lands Department (LandsD) or police.
But the 2013 AC report found this process woefully inadequate, pointing out that, while LandsD issued over 4,125 “removal warning” tickets between 2008 and 2013, only 29 roadside skips had been removed by LandsD and no skip owners had been successfully prosecuted in that period. Police removed 32 skips during a similar period, an enforcement haul that AC said “might not have reflected the magnitude of the skip problem”.
For its 2013 report, the AC studied roadside skips under three time periods (one day, 38 days and one year), analysing 470 roadside skips in total and finding none of them in compliance. A third of the skips caused obstruction or safety threats to other road users while a fifth of them were illegally placed on bus routes and almost 40% were on double yellow lines. AC also slammed the government for not collecting any data on the skip industry, with the number of skips and operators completely unknown.
The government had said in 2013 it would act on AC’s findings.
EPD today says it hopes the pilot scheme can “raise the standards of skip operation in Hong Kong by promoting the skip operators to use the certified skips in a more responsible way in accordance with government road safety, street management and environmental requirements.”
EPD also says government departments will be encouraged to hire only registered skip operators and certified skips “with a view to promoting the implementation of the voluntary skips management system through market forces.”
The government has given no timescale on the project, nor answered how many skips will be included once the initial trial of 30 retrofitted skips is complete.