The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has over the years taken a number of initiatives to help protect the environment and the latest effort to make Taiwan more energy-efficient has seen drivers forbidden from leaving vehicles idling for more than three minutes.
The amendment to the Air Pollution Control Act (空氣污染防治法) introduced on March 1, which took effect this month, requires drivers to turn off their engines if they stay in the same spot for more than three minutes. Violators can be fined NT$1,500 for motorcycles, NT$3,000 for cars and NT$5,000 for larger vehicles.
The new regulation is a positive step aimed at reducing carbon emissions. However, it is also an impractical policy that could simply resulted in the harassment of the public and further burden law enforcement officers.
On Friday, when the law took effect, local environmental protection departments sent 180 people out to conduct on-site inspections at major tourist attractions, schools, hospitals, hotels, train stations and shopping malls. While more than 2,000 warnings were issued to drivers of stationary vehicles with running engines, no fines were handed out.
The EPA acknowledged that it is difficult to issue tickets as the law states that inspectors are required to use an ultra-ray inspection camera to monitor vehicle tailpipes for three minutes before fining violators.
Under such complicated inspection procedures, most drivers will simply turn off their engines or drive away when they realize they are being monitored. Limited manpower in environmental protection departments nationwide, coupled with unrealistic inspection conditions, means the ban could become one of those policies that is never enforced despite the legislation’s well-meaning ambitions.
As a taxi driver said when asked to comment, the policy was drafted by officials who sit around in air-conditioned buildings all day.
Before any drivers are fined for violating the regulation, the ban is already being slammed by some sections of the public. Taxi drivers, in particular, have said the ban will hurt business as switching off the engine while waiting for customers will turn their vehicles into ovens in the summertime.
Environmental Protection Administration Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏) admitted that the there is room for improvement regarding the details of the law and has said his agency will hold meetings with taxi associations to discuss whether to relax the time limit it imposes on them.
The government should be focusing its energies on programs that instruct or encourage major taxi and bus companies to replace old heavily polluting vehicles with lower emission versions.
To improve the country’s air quality, the EPA should pay greater attention to the petroleum and chemicals industry that is responsible for emitting massive levels of carbon.
The government should also step up its efforts to educate and encourage greater use of public transportation. Building better national public transportation networks would increase people’s willingness to use these services and reduce the number of cars and scooters currently clogging the roads.
Promoting a green environment with low carbon emissions is important. In the case of emissions from idling vehicles, warnings and persuading drivers to stop should help. However, a ban with impractical inspection procedures and fines will only invite further public criticism.