Hong Kong’s commerce minister on Thursday countered concerns that a two-year food truck pilot scheme had fallen short of expectations, by pledging to explore more locations for operators.
The plan came after a third operator out of the original batch of 16 called it quits earlier this month, struggling with high costs and strict regulations.
The scheme has drawn criticism from the get-go due to issues ranging from the high cost required to meet the government’s standards and the long process to win licence approval, to the poor, rigid choice of locations for the trucks, which are required to stay put at designated spots.
But Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah told a radio show on Thursday that the city’s Tourism Commission had already adopted a “very flexible and loose” approach to the scheme.
“Some have voiced concerns that it is very hard to operate in certain locations and that the rules are a bit too strict at some. In response, we have proposed different approaches,” he said.
The main idea for the two-year pilot period had been to test different modes of operation and see which was most suitable, he added.
The scheme was first proposed by former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and rolled out in February this year with the aim of diversifying the city’s tourism offering.
But some questioned if the scheme was deviating from a focus on tourism after a spot for a truck was offered at the University of Science and Technology’s Clear Water Bay campus. Yau responded on Thursday by saying food truck operators were “running businesses” and needed to go where the customers were.
“We will consider different locations, taking into [consideration] traffic flow and [impact] on other catering businesses in the area,” he said.
Yau was equally diplomatic on the thorny issue of Airbnb in Hong Kong. While he claimed the government welcomed the sharing economy and related technologies, he stressed that “all guest houses needed to meet fire safety regulations and ensure other residents were not subject to nuisance”.
Meanwhile, Yau rejected claims that the government had been cutting resources for public broadcaster RTHK in light of news that it had been having trouble finding affordable government premises for its new operations.
Yau said more money, not less, had been allocated in the last few years and that it was not a problem of resources.
Plans to find a new home for Hong Kong’s public broadcaster appeared to hit a snag on Tuesday after the minister cast doubt on a move to share a building with other government departments.
Yau told lawmakers on Wednesday the government had not been able to identify a department suitable for sharing a building with the broadcaster since a proposed new Tseung Kwan O headquarters was vetoed by the legislature’s public works committee on grounds of high cost three years ago.