Transport chief stresses scheme’s details are open for discussion but admits that the government can do little besides relying on industry self-regulation.
About 100 taxis and their protesting drivers packed roads outside the government headquarters and the Legco building Tuesday morning as members of the Panel on Transport discussed a “premium taxi” proposal. Lawmakers have made it clear that the honking was heard.
Under an ongoing Public Transport Strategy Study, he government has proposed issuing up to 600 “premium taxi” licences as part of a medium- and long-term plan to address public discontent over low-quality taxi service. But the panel’s legislators were not convinced that the inclusion of 600 more taxis could rescue the industry’s reputation.
The proposal calls for granting around three franchises, each with a fleet of at least 150 to 200 vehicles. The document also puts forth two possible ranges of fare at flagfall – HK$29 to HK$33 and HK$35 to HK$44.
The Liberal Party’s Frankie Yick chi-ming (易志明), who represents the transport sector, said the government should allow the industry the opportunity to improve its service before issuing more licences. He noted that many of the proposed requirements, including the installation of mobile applications for hailing premium taxis, and the greater use of Global Positioning System (GPS) and electronic payment methods, have already been adopted by some existing operators and show promise.
Yick also pointed out that there was no shortage of taxis in Hong Kong, while the number of daily taxi passengers fell from 1.3 million in 1997 to 900,000 last year. Having more taxis on roads will only lead to excess competition while resulting in more serious traffic congestion, he said. Michael Tien Puk-sun (田北辰), chairman of the panel, added that the plan could be contradictory to the proposed electronic road pricing initiative.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung (張炳良) admitted that the premium taxi proposal would not solve all taxi service quality issues, particularly because only the general Road Traffic (Registration and Licensing of Vehicles) Regulations regulate the business operation of all 18,000 existing permanent taxi license holders.
The issues of Uber and ride-sharing in the commercial vehicle market were again raised by several pan-democratic legislators, who suggested that the government had only moved to help the local taxi industry after a crackdown on illegal hire car services last August. However, Cheung denied any connection between the proposal and the Uber incident.
Transport and Housing officials will meet with representatives of the Hong Kong Taxi Council later this week. Although several lawmakers, including Yick, called for a Legco public hearing session on the topic, the panel chairman noted that it was unlikely that one could be scheduled before the current Legco term concluded.