Hong Kong will see a "major reduction" in its roadside pollution within the next six months, as the government clamps down on a long-running problem that causes thousands of premature deaths annually and hurts the city's business competitiveness.
A new scheme will revoke the licences of taxis and mini-buses if they do not comply with tougher maintenance standards, said Undersecretary for Environment Christine Loh as she delivered the pledge.
These 20,000 vehicles are the culprits for increasing levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide - a key contributor to smog - here. Since 2008, it has gone up by nearly 20 per cent, even as levels of other pollutants declined.
The reason, said Ms Loh, was that while these vehicles had upgraded to cleaner LPG fuel, they fail to change their catalytic converters, which convert harmful emissions, regularly. These need to be changed every 18 months.
So under the new scheme, the government will pay for the owners to get a one-time replacement of converters which cost HK$10,000 (S$1,600) each. They have until next March to do so.
The bite comes in April, when five mobile sensors will be placed around the city, to spot and photograph recalcitrant vehicles.
Those nabbed will be given a grace period of 12 days to make the change, after which they will lose their vehicle's licence, said Mr Pang Sik Wing, the city's principal environmental protection officer for air sciences. Vehicles will also have to go for annual checks to ensure they comply.
Fighting air pollution is a key prong of the Leung Chun Ying government.
In March, an ambitious seven- year road map that included replacing some 80,000 diesel commercial vehicles was rolled out. But it has since met with some roadblocks, including resistance from industry.