How HK's policies of pseudo-anonymity and deep under-pricing of metered parking have resulted in a half-baked not-very-smart upgrade to the system, launched yesterday.

Meter Madness
19 January 2021

One of the many inefficiencies of HK's road transport policies is that the price you pay (if you pay) for metered parking on a public road in HK has not changed since 1994, back when Bill Clinton was 2 years into his first presidency and the HK taxi flag fall was HK$11.50 (now $24). Metered parking is never more than HK$2 per 15 minutes (less in some spots), which is almost always a huge discount to the commercial parking spaces nearby. It's even cheaper if you don't pay or overstay, which is not an option in commercial car parks. Labour costs of enforcement are too high to provide a meaningful deterrent. So the spaces are often full, and in some areas, gangs running "valet parking" operations tend to monopolise them to profit from the under-pricing.

Yesterday, the Government launched its latest so-called "smart mobility" parking meters. They have radar to detect whether a space is occupied, but out of misplaced privacy concerns, they don't record the plate numbers of vehicles, so there's no automatic charging or fining for owners of vehicles who don't pay or overstay. It requires old-fashioned legwork to send a cop or traffic warden to record the plate number and issue a ticket. At least the meters will tell the cops where to look, so the deterrent may become more efficient.

Users will still need to decide in advance how much parking time to buy, and fiddle with QR codes or card payments to start the meter. There's a new smartphone app which allows you to remotely extend the parking time, but because of the under-pricing, there is a policy that you can only remotely renew the spot once - for example, 2 hours plus another 2 hours. Then you presumably have to come back and use a different payment method or move to another space. That's what happens with an under-priced resource - you have to ration it. As the web site states:

"To prevent motorists from continuously purchasing additional parking time remotely via mobile phones with a view to occupying the parking spaces for a prolonged period, HKeMeter will restrict the validity period of each connection and the connection will become invalid upon the expiry of effective parking time of the parking meter concerned."

So, not that smart.

A better way: a Park-and-Go scheme

A proper solution would work as follows:

Simple, eh? This solution has the following benefits:

Regarding the purported privacy concerns - get real - any vehicle on the roads can already be tracked at multiple waypoints, and most payment methods on the new meters also require using identifiable payment methods. The only possible exception is the Octopus card, if it is one which is not linked to a bank account and doesn't have a pattern of usage that identifies you elsewhere (for example, CCTV and facial recognition on public transport). Commercial car parks record number plates routinely, so why not parking meters?

What the Government has done is to sacrifice all of the above benefits in exchange for having a pseudo-anonymous, under-priced parking meter system. If you don't want your vehicle to be identified, then don't use a parking meter - it's not a human right.

HK, Asia's Smart City?

In case you are thinking "can't be done", there's at least one system under trial in Taipei, by Acer ITS Smart Parking Solutions. Watch the video here.

The "new" HK meters are supplied and operated under a HK$682m 11-year contract awarded in 2019 to a joint venture between HKT Limited (HKT, 6823) and Flowbird. HKT is a subsidiary of PCCW Ltd (0008), which is 31% controlled by Richard Li Tzar Kai, son of Li Ka Shing. So HK is probably stuck with the not-so-smart meters until 2030.

©, 2021

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