Hong Kong autonomous driving policy in the ditch

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A recent global report shows that Hong Kong is far behind competitors in planning for the future of autonomous vehicles. While Singapore will have self-driving cars on the road by 2022, Hong Kong’s policy making in this area lags far behind.

Consultancy firm Arcadis released a report titled Citizens in Motion last week to look at the development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) in 14 global cities, including Hong Kong.

CAV are vehicles that communicate with each other and the environment around them without the need for a human driver.

As a part of its smart city vision, Hong Kong is exploring CAV as an alternative mode of transportation.

The government says it will facilitate the development of self-driving cars and eventually introduce such cars with integrated internet access.

Currently, self-driving electric vehicles can only be found in West Kowloon Park. But it is only a pilot zone. Widespread use of such vehicles throughout the city has yet to come.

Lack of legal framework

The Arcadis report states that Hong Kong is taking “an extremely cautious approach to CAV and lacks specific policies”. The firm also believes the cautious approach presents challenges to CAV acceptance. The less generous may characterise this as having a conservative attitude, no plan and little to no appetite for change.

Mr John Batten, global cities director at Arcadis, says the government is still mulling over policies and looking at examples elsewhere.

“In terms of legal framework, the Transport Department is looking at overseas CAV development in terms of safety, regulation and legislation, and recognizes the need to review its current framework to facilitate CAV development,” said Mr Batten.

Arcadis says the government’s Smart City blueprint mentions CAVs, but there is no legal framework in place yet. Real-time data and smart traffic management systems are also prioritized over CAV.

By contrast, Singapore, another city in Arcadis’ report, has set up the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore to coordinate all CAV initiatives. A center for CAV testing also opened in 2016.

The Singaporean government also plans to have self-driving buses and shuttles on public roads by 2022.

What does the future hold?

Despite the lack of specific policies, Mr Batten believes Hong Kong still has what it takes to promote the use of CAVs.

“As stated in its Smart City blueprint, the government has the ambition to bring smart mobility to the city, whether through ‘in-vehicle units’, or traffic detectors to provide real-time traffic information – all of such features will pave way for CAV adaption,” he notes.

Mr Batten advises the authorities to come up with a framework that strikes a balance between the interest of transport operators, technology and the mobility needs of their citizens.

He adds that CAV can be a solution to the strained land supply that troubles the city.

“As CAV requires less roadway and parking space. If its vision is realized, land can then be repurposed for residential, commercial or mixed-use projects,” said Mr Batten, who believes that CAV can alleviate traffic congestion too.

“With population expected to reach a peak of 8.22 million in 2043, the city’s congestion will only worsen if no action is taken soon,” he warns.

Hong Kongers rely heavily on the city’s public transport system, which sees over 12.6 million passenger trips every day.

“By developing CAV routes that complement the current metro system, with a focus on ‘first and last mile’ connection around stations, residents can get to their homes and places of work more quickly and efficiently,” he said.

(Printer – R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7/F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road Central, HK)