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Friday, April 21, 2017, 00:30

Taxi industry proposes to reform itself

By Willa Wu

HONG KONG - The taxi industry on Thursday proposed self-reforming their long-criticized services, in a bid to head off the government’s proposed plan to set up a premium taxi fleet.

But an economist doubted whether this would be effective, as the root causes lie in how taxi drivers are employed.

The Taxi 2020 blueprint, put forward by Liberal Party lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming, aims to address long-standing malpractices in the taxi industry, including overcharging, refusing hires and poor service attitude.

The self-rescue plan follows the government’s proposal made in June last year to set up three franchised taxi fleets, comprising about 600 premium taxi licenses, to address unsatisfactory taxi services.

Premium taxis, with higher prices, will have licenses that differ from the traditional ones.The number of traditional taxi licenses has been flat since 1998.

Objecting to the government’s premium taxi plan, Yick said it would bring unfair competition to the market, putting local taxi drivers’ livelihoods at risk.

The taxi industry’s blueprint outlines several measures including establishing a special committee to oversee the industry service and development. The committee will include representatives of industry players, lawmakers and other stakeholders.

Meanwhile, a point-based penalty system is also suggested to deter drivers from providing substandard services. Taxi drivers’ behavior will be recorded by CCTV cameras installed inside the cab to monitor service.

Drivers may lose points and even their licenses if such behavior is found.

The industry objects to the government’s plan to issue new taxi licenses. They believe existing taxis that meet the government’s standard can be upgraded to premium ones. The government can impose direct supervision on such vehicles, Yick added.

But Hong Kong-based economist and former director of the Centre for Quality of Life at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, has reservations about the industry’s proposal. Kwan said the suggestions touched only the surface of the problem and would have “little” effect on the industry.

“The root problem of malpractice lies in the way that taxi drivers are hired. Currently, most taxi drivers in Hong Kong are self-employed. Therefore they are under little or even no supervision. How would they offer standardized services?” Kwan said.

The only way to improve the industry was to change the incentive system; taxi drivers should be hired by companies, rather than being self-employed, Kwan said.

He described the government’s franchised taxi scheme as “the first step” to improve taxi industry development.

According to the Transport Department, Hong Kong now has 18,163 taxi licenses. The licenses – which trade at HK$6.43 million for the red urban taxis and HK$5.48 million for green New Territories taxis – are permanent and can be traded. Taxi drivers usually rent cars from the license owners, and conduct their business independently.

The latest data from the Transport Complaints Unit (TCU) of the Transport Advisory Committee show that in the fourth quarter of last year about 6,591 complaints concerned taxi drivers’ malpractices.

Yick presented the blueprint during a Legislative Council transport panel meeting on Thursday.

Lawmakers Lau Kwok-fan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Priscilla Leung Mei-fun of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong and representatives from Hong Kong Taxi Council supported Yick’s proposal.

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