Rampant illegal parking – another failure of government

Illegal parking in the urban areas is getting worse. The government engages in public hand-wringing over traffic congestion and illegal parking yet takes little serious action to combat it. The recent announcement that it intends to increase the amount of a fixed penalty ticket is unlikely to deter illegal parkers because, as many have pointed out, enforcement by the police and traffic wardens is weak.

The government is now talking again about introducing Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) as a means of easing traffic congestion. But it has already indicated that this won’t be introduced (if at all) until sometime after 2017 when the delayed Wanchai By-pass opens. The government was urged in the Transport Advisory Council’s Report on Study of Road Traffic Congestions in Hong Kong last December, “…to engage the public as soon as possible for the planning of an ERP scheme.” One year later the government announces a public consultation. If there is a need for urgent action, the government appears oblivious to it.

The Transport Advisory Council (TAC) report notes, “Although there was an increase of about 98% in the number of fixed penalty tickets issued for congestion-related offences over the past 10 years, there is a general perception in the community that enforcement against congestion related offences is not stringent enough.” While it notes that there may be other demands on police time it, ”urges the police to consider how enforcement against congestion-related offences could be further strengthened.”

Senior police officers have said privately that in many cases police officers do not consider it their job to ticket illegally parked cars, even though they all carry tickets. Indeed senior officers have said privately that they are embarrassed by the way police constables (PCs) walk past rows of illegally parked cars without appearing to notice. He says he has told PCs under his command, “If they [members of the public] see you ignoring something that is blatantly against the law then they are encouraged to do other things. Basically if they have seen you walking past something which is obviously an offence and you have done nothing about it – they just think the police are rubbish.”

This view is clearly at odds with the Selective Traffic Enforcement Policy (STEP) which the police have employed since 1993. This aims to maintain traffic flow and road safety, while at the same time reducing fatal and serious accidents; deterring drink and drug driving, speeding and illegal road racing; and promoting safe cycling.There are four levels of traffic enforcement in STEP ranging from arrest to summons, fixed penalty tickets and verbal warnings. Police are also able to “exercise their discretion” when the offender is aged under 16 or over 60; the offence is of a trivial nature; the offender is remorseful and has no intention to commit the offence; and there is no aggrieved party and no harm done to any person or property. If there is no hazard or obstruction to traffic, drivers will be allowed to drive away and there will only be “enforcement” if they don’t.

But apparently, enforcement action will be taken against any non-compliance to the road signs set up by the Transport Department. This may be the policy but a walk around Central or Causeway Bay indicates it is not being implemented. Senior police officers say there is no policy not to confront illegal parkers, but rather that “police officers don’t see it as part of their core duties. They tend to leave it to traffic wardens.” Indeed some senior police officers say there shouldn’t be a selective traffic enforcement policy. Rather it should be left up to individual police constables to issue tickets depending on their assessment of the circumstances. Having “levels of enforcement” creates confusion and discourages PCs from taking action. The TAC report notes with approval that, “Frontline police officers have been directed that they may now take enforcement action against drivers causing obstruction by double parking, without the need to issue a verbal warning even if the driver is at the wheel.” This directive has been in force for more than year but has made no discernible difference to the problem.

There have been any number of suggestions over the years for dealing with illegal parking. In some cities regulating car parking is outsourced and is a profitable business. The more tickets issued, the more money the company makes. The government could step up enforcement by requiring habitual illegal parkers to stop using their cars for a period. Modern technology could be employed to ticket cars more efficiently and so on.

But the root of the problem is that there is no political will to deal with the chauffeur driven 7-seaters. Increased regulation and penalties will make no difference if there is no enforcement. It suits the elite of which senior civil servants and government officials are a part, not to do anything.

The current arrangements are clearly not working and illegal parking obviously makes traffic congestion worse and affects road safety. The police are obviously reluctant to take this on since they don’t see it as their main job. Meanwhile they are criticised for condoning low level law breaking. If the government was to outsource this there would be no shortage of takers. But for the moment, like so many other issues in Hong Kong such as the small house policy, building management issues, waste management, it is put in the too hard basket and left for other government officials to handle or ignore at some remote time in the future.


5 thoughts on “Rampant illegal parking – another failure of government

  1. HN

    Good article. But illegal parking and police inaction is not restricted to Central. It’s prevalent everywhere in HK. I have come across lorries parked on the hard shoulders of roads leading to motorways!

    I have complained to the police and the police public relations bureau. But the usual reply is – no reply or “we have passed your comments to the x x police station”.

    There appears to be a “give an inch take a mile” attitude in HK. Clearly, lack of enforcement of laws and regulations is to blame.

    Great work HK!

  2. Tama

    As per usual with Hong Kong, this problem could be solved very easily, but the government simply can’t be bothered. All one needs to do is incentivise traffic wardens and police to actually do their job, and properly penalize habitual offenders (i.e. temporary ban on car and/or driver).
    It’s not rocket science. But as Howard points out, the current state of affairs suits the elite and their goddam Alphards so we shouldn’t expect anything to change.

  3. Guy Shirra

    When they announced a review of the Fixed Penalty Parking penalty, I wrote in and proposed that the following offences should be prioritised and given a much higher penalty: Parking:
    causing actual obstruction
    on a pavement
    in a disabled space
    in a space for another class of vehicle (e.g. P/Car in Goods Vehicle space)

    Parking on expired meters or in non-designated spaces but not obstructing anything should be a low priority only for Traffic Wardens
    Long term/repeat offenders should be Towed Away!

    No positive response from either HKP or TD.
    A complete waste of time.



  5. Guest

    “Basically if they have seen you walking past something which is obviously an offence and you have done nothing about it – they just think the police are rubbish.”

    Well, the Mongkok rioters thought exactly the same thing.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if, in time, some cops reconsider their decisions to join Hong Kong’s Finest. Many of them come from the working class, too, and the growing wealth gap along with the erosion of the rule of law affect them as well.

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