Parking tickets reached a record high in 2021, with 3.3 million of the $320 fines given out over the year – equivalent to one every 10 seconds.
The annual police figures, updated just this week, show a 22% rise on 2020 and around 300% on 2012, while the average number of tickets per licensed vehicle has tripled from 1.4 in 2012 to 4.0 last year.
The bumper crop of parking tickets could inject $1.1 billion into the government’s coffers if fully paid, five times its public car park revenue. And with the advent of printed tickets, police have said accuracy is higher than ever before: only around 1 in 1,250 tickets now go unpaid due to police error, down from 1 in 880 with handwritten tickets.
But despite the surge in police enforcement and higher accuracy, illegal parking remains rampant, with residents across the city regularly complaining of cars illegally blocking roads and pavements and occupying metered parking spaces without paying.
A quick survey of several metered zones this weekend showed only half of private cars are paying for their metered parking in Central, while at tourism hotspots like Tai Mei Tuk, hundreds of cars parked illegally for free on every available tarmac surface around the public car park.
One problem raised by the government may be the low fine of a Hong Kong parking ticket: the $320 fine was last raised in colonial days, 28 years ago in 1994, with lawmakers rejecting a proposed raise to $680 during the last legislative session.
Many lawmakers insist the issue is not the low fine but a lack of parking spaces, forcing drivers to park illegally.
The government has acquiesced, adding thousands of new spaces through new “smart meter” replacement scheme, as well as forging ahead with the multi-billion dollar “automated parking system” initiative despite widespread public criticism from environmentalists and parking experts.
At the end of 2020, Hong Kong had 17,880 metered parking spaces in the city, 16,980 free designated on-street spaces and 5,095 public multi-storey or open-air car park spaces.
Yet the latest government figures show the new smart parking meters rolled out across the city remain either abused or underused.
Figures from the Transport Department (TD) show a utilisation rate for smart meters of just under 50% across the city: as low as 44.1% in New Territories, while up to 54.9% in Kowloon.
The utilisation rate is the actual revenue collected against the potential revenue from each meter, taking into account its operating hours. A 50% utilisation rate could mean, for example, that cars are parking without paying half the time, or that the metered spaces are empty half the time.
No firm conclusions can be drawn from the utilisation rates given by the government – although the new parking meters are “smart” in recording whether they are occupied or not, the government will not release data showing whether zero-revenue hours are down to illegal occupation or a vacant meter.
But the low utilisation rates show the government is missing out on more than $200 million revenue per year, at 2020 parking revenue rates.
TD and the police have been approached for comment.