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The pilot scheme introducing one-off ad hoc quotas for private cars crossing the Guangdong/Hong Kong border will go ahead next month as planned, despite a growing public outcry in Hong Kong.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng told the Legislative Council on Wednesday that the government would adopt a very cautious approach in launching the scheme. Emphasis will be on road safety, road capacity and environmental pollution. Cheng said, however, there is no plan to conduct a public consultation on the plan. She went on to say drivers will not be compelled to attend driving courses to become familiar with road conditions, laws, etc. on either side of the border, before they are issued permits.
In the first phase, Hong Kong drivers will be permitted to drive to Guangdong province. There is no fixed timetable for implementation of phase two. The second phase will permit mainland motorists to drive their cars to Hong Kong, but that development is contingent upon the success of phase one.
Cheng said the scheme will be highly regulated but does not have a standard policy. At start, the quota for Hong Kong drivers crossing into Guangdong province will be small: 50 five-seaters per day. Cheng said that the figure may be lowered if circumstances merit. Only applicants with good driving records will be approved and those who are approved will be required to comply with laws of the mainland.
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Phase two, which was the trigger for the formation of some public opposition groups in Hong Kong, has no set timetable. Drivers from Guangdong will be permitted to drive to Hong Kong, only after the first phase is deemed successful. An amendment to existing law is required prior to the issuance of local vehicle licences and licence fees.
Citing concerns about road safety and pollution, Liberal Party Chairman Miriam Lau and Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu called for public consultation before the cross border scheme is launched.
Democratic Party Chairman Albert Ho, who noted the differences between the two locales, called for the entire program to be scrapped, including phase one. Ho added that with the implementation of phase one, there will be immediate pressure on the Hong Kong government to grant a reciprocal arrangement favoring mainland drivers.
Priscilla Leung from the Professional Forum addressed concerns about road safety and said the government should require drivers to take driving courses and assess them stringently before issuing permits to drive to the mainland.
Cheng said the government is aware of the public concerns and promised to listen carefully during the legislative stage. Cheng did not, however, commit to a public consultation exercise. The government also encouraged driving schools and transport organizations to run training courses for drivers.
Other lawmakers raised concerns that expectant mothers from the mainland who have been unable to obtain obstetrics appointments in Hong Kong, may try to hitch rides in Hong Kong bound vehicles, to avoid interception at regular border checkpoints, so that their babies may be born here.