Hong Kong has recently experienced record-breaking smog levels. The Environmental Protection Department said that roadside pollution in 2011 was the worst on record. Clear the Air, a local non-governmental organisation working for improved air quality, reports that the city's greenhouse-gas emissions have jumped 14 per cent from 1990 to 2005 and that vehicles are the second greatest contributor to air pollution. The Hedley Environmental Index estimates that this past month's pollution will mean 154 premature deaths in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is unusual among developed-world cities both in the poor quality of its air and the many easy opportunities to cut pollution. Replacing the city's ageing diesel-powered bus fleet with electric buses would effectively cut vehicular emissions, improve air quality and alleviate subsequent health complications. Hong Kong's solution for where to source such a vehicle lies just across the border.
Mainland China has prioritised the development of electric and hybrid vehicles in response to its growing dependence on foreign oil. The government announced annual subsidies of up to 2 billion yuan (HK$2.5 billion) for fuel-saving vehicles, including electrics and hybrids, in an attempt to foster growth in the industry and eventually put five million alternative energy vehicles on Chinese streets by 2020. Hong Kong can benefit from this initiative, utilising the funds used to develop the mainland's electric vehicle industry.
Shenzhen's BYD, the company famed for being one of the world's largest rechargeable battery manufacturers and winning financial backing from Warren Buffett, released an all-electric bus this past year. The K9 is fuelled by both solar power and a rechargeable lithium iron phosphate battery - one three-hour charge gives the bus a 250-kilometre range in urban settings.
This vehicle is fully capable of handling the routes and distances covered by the current bus fleet and would immediately minimise carbon emissions and noise pollution.