On the Roads

GOVT SNEAKS IN 4,000 NEW ON-STREET PARKING SPACES UNDER GUISE OF “SMART METER” REPLACEMENT

Par for the course: a car parks for free at a new parking meter in Hong Kong. The government says its contractor will step up inspections as smart meters (pictured) are installed.

The government will add up to new 4,000 kerbside parking spaces across the city under the guise of its so-called “smart meter” initiative, Transit Jam has learned, with the new spaces bypassing usual approvals and community consultation.

“The new parking meters are only for existing parking spaces,” claimed Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Management and Paratransit) Patrick Wong Chi-kwong, wrongly, at a press conference yesterday, when asked if new parking spaces would encourage more cars.

But at least 36 of the first 44 smart meter spaces to be launched tomorrow (20 January) are in fact brand new on-street parking spaces.

The government claims there will be no new parking spaces created by the smart meters – but the road surfacing machine was still warm in Central this afternoon following the creation of 20 brand new on-street parking spaces, created by widening the road and destroying the tree verge.

20 spaces at Yiu Sing Street, Central, and 16 spaces at Man Chat Road, Tuen Mun, are newly constructed, with at least a dozen trees and a verge destroyed to make way for the Central spaces. The project was run through the Central & Western District Council as “road improvement works” related to the Central-Wan Chai Bypass tunnel completion.

And figures obtained by Transit Jam show the government will use the new meter programme to add up to 4,000 new spaces by the first half of 2022, a 22% increase in on-street metered parking spaces.

Transport Department (TD) and contractor HKT said they will install 12,000 new meters in total, replacing 9,800 old machines and offering new payment options including contactless credit cards and QR payment through AlipayHK, WeChat Pay and Union QR. Through the app HKeMeter, drivers will be able to top up their parking remotely.

The price of parking at the new smart meters will remain at 1994 levels: $2 per 15 minutes.

At the smart meter launch press conference yesterday, reporters quizzed officials on the effectiveness of the new radar system in the smart meters.

The new meters have millimetre-wavelength radar eyes to detect objects in the parking space: but gangs and shops often use wooden pallets and traffic cones to illegally reserve parking spaces (inset) and the meters may not be able to tell the difference, according to officials

The technology could only “vaguely identify” whether a parking space was occupied, said Eva Wong, Senior Engineer (Transport Services) with Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, when asked if the system could differentiate between a parked car or a traffic cone.

Car jockey gangs and shops often use pallets and cones to illegally reserve on-street parking, while gangs in places like Cameron Lane completely occupy government spaces, re-selling them to drivers at great profit.

Assistant Commissioner Patrick Wong said he could not comment on specific cases such as illegal car jockey gangs, but that if the backend system detected irregularities, such as cars parked but no payment made, a team would be dispatched to investigate.

“We will step up inspections, and if there are irregularities in using those spaces, we will refer to enforcement agencies,” he said. “At the moment I cannot specifically answer you how we can use that, but we will look into it.”

When pressed on how enforcement would work, given current failures and widespread abuse of the parking meter system, Wong said he had already answered the question. “Look, our new function is to facilitate motorists, motorists can use the app to see if the parking space they would like to use is occupied or not,” he said, adding that the contractor would need to make “regular inspections” to detect hogging of parking spaces.

TD has not yet responded to questions on the approvals sought for the new spaces in Central and Tuen Mun.

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