SCMP: Hong Kong’s public transport system is the envy of the world. A 2021 report from McKinsey ranked Hong Kong’s system favourably in terms of efficiency and affordability. Much of this success can be attributed to the government’s “railway backbone” development strategy, which prioritises the creation of residential districts around mass transit rail hubs.
Yet, praise of Hong Kong’s public transportation system often omits the crucial role played by the franchised bus network, which is the city’s second-largest carrier of public transit passengers. Unfortunately, the electrification of Hong Kong’s bus fleet has been slow. More specifically, fewer than 1 per cent of the buses are electric. There is an exigent need to reduce vehicular carbon emissions to achieve the city’s 2050 carbon neutrality goal.
Bus decarbonisation will bring major benefits. The reduction of vehicular emissions in Hong Kong will drastically improve roadside air quality and benefit public health.
Regrettably, despite urgent action needed to decarbonise the bus service in Hong Kong, the government’s “Road Map on the Popularisation of Electric Vehicles” offers scant details on a path forward.
The introduction of battery-powered electric buses is a viable option to decarbonise bus services. Yet, implementation problems remain. For example, the power needs of Hong Kong’s battery-powered electric buses – which will need to be air-conditioned and double-deck – may be greater than what present technologies can provide, forcing operators to bear the performance uncertainties.
Furthermore, bus operators struggle with navigating the government bureaucracy when installing battery-charging infrastructure. Government support will be crucial to overcome these pain points.
Another pathway to bus travel decarbonisation is the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell buses in Hong Kong. While local bus operators have begun trial operations with such buses, outdated regulations limit opportunities for the development of hydrogen fuelling infrastructure and supply chains. A series of outdated regulations on the use and handling of hydrogen must be amended.
With these barriers in mind, Hong Kong must determine how new bus technologies should be adopted. The government should spearhead fleet-level trials to deliver an optimised zero-emissions bus fleet and develop enhanced infrastructure, all while maintaining current service levels in terms of frequency and quality.
To support the transition to zero-emission buses, bus operators, power companies, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders have formed the Zero Emissions Mobility Consortium. The consortium looks forward to advocating for policies to develop local green transportation and collaborating with the government to achieve Hong Kong’s carbon neutrality goals.
Originally published on SCMP on 15 Aug 2022. Written by Lawrence Iu and Jason Liu.