Hong Kong residents are obsessed with property, and I'm no exception. But I never thought my dank, dark car park space in the building where I live would turn out to be my best investment ever. I bought it four years ago for $90,000. Recent deals indicate it's now worth $167,000, an 85 percent increase.
Wow. I should be feeling smug right? But when I realize the parking space is worth ten times more than my fifth-hand car, I get less smug. I get even less smug when I glance down the street at night, because people who could afford very new-looking Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes found that they could park for free right on the road. Illegal yes, but most of the time it's free. Even if you're caught, it'll cost you far less than dropping an empty soda can on the ground.
On the clogged arteries of Hong Kong, crawling along like a snail is a fact of life, but too often the clogs are not just too many vehicles, but too many that are illegally parked.
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Collective aggravation has led to inconsistent attempts by police to clear it up. The number of parking tickets issued by police in 2012 in the congested Central business district was up by more than 90 percent to around 75,000. But that's just one district. In all of Hong Kong, the number of fines was up just 8 percent to 796,000.
Why are so many people taking a chance on finding that little white slip under the wiper? Because the biggest hit on your wallet, will be $42-59. Indoor car parks charge $2.50-$4.50 an hour. So unless some bold officer dares to ticket you twice, that is if you get ticketed at all, you could park all day and night and still pay less than parking legally.
Hong Kong has a fixed penalty of $190 for any form of littering, spitting or leaving your dog's poop on the ground without cleaning it up. You can even be slapped with the same fine for throwing anything BUT cigarette butts into the cigarette butt container on the top of public trash cans. I didn't know they separated garbage that meticulously here.
Lately I've called the police hotline a few times to report cars flaunting the law, sometimes stacked 2-3 deep on busy streets, blocking buses. Most of the time, a cop or two saunters over after awhile, and waves off the cars without ticketing, only to have the same vehicles do a go-around and go right back to it, when they leave the area.
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The SCMP recently reported that many of the culprits are the chauffeurs of businessmen, waiting obediently for their bosses, and found they'd rather get fined than not be there on time. Police cited one such culprit who said: "You ticket me, my boss will pay. If I don't wait, my boss will yell at me." Police tried a campaign with the message "Wait for your car; don't get your car to wait for you." That really made people quiver.
No one will ever know the real social and economic cost of immobilized traffic. Sean Darby, strategist with Jeffries & Co. told me, "Hong Kong wins plaudits as one of the most-free economies in the world. On the street though, it's a totally different matter. The arteries of Hong Kong's success have become clogged and congestion is unacceptable."
Actually, Darby is spot on….it's FREE….
I can't help but feel like a bit of a sucker when I see those much newer rides parking for FREE on my street, I could probably get away with it the same way. Ah, but I wouldn't have watched my car park investment skyrocket.
I feel a lot better now.