A fare cut is only half the solution, say embattled taxi drivers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 12:00am

Proposals by taxi industry representatives to cut fares have been met with a mixed reception from drivers.

However, all of the drivers interviewed by the South China Morning Post yesterday agreed that the current business environment was the worst they had ever seen.

The Urban Taxi Drivers' Association has suggested that the flagfall for the first two kilometres charged by urban taxis should be $12 instead of the current $15, and the subsequent meter fare decreased by 30 per cent from $1.40 to $1.

Driver Yeung Chin, 53, said the ultimate solution to the trade's problem would be for the economy to improve. He said some drivers had already started charging passengers less than the metered fare and an across-the-board cut would make drivers feel more comfortable.

'At least we can all do it openly then,' said the 30-year veteran of the business. 'It's not too good to break laws after all.'

Mr Yeung said he had had a good day yesterday, making almost $500 after nine hours on the road. He usually works a 12-hour shift which costs him about $350 for the taxi's rent and gas. 'I have been driving since the flagfall for a taxi ride in Kowloon was $1, and in 30 years of business things have never been so bad,' he said.

Fellow driver 50-year-old Kong Hoi-wang was hopeful that a fare cut would boost takings.

'That will improve things,' he said. 'The more people know there is a fare cut, the more business we will get. I do worry that it would be difficult to raise fares again when the economy gets better, but what we need is business now.'

However, some cabbies queueing at the Hong Kong Airport Express Station strongly opposed any fare cut. A group of five drivers said that 'true cabbies' did not want fares cut. One of the drivers, who gave his name as Mr Fu, said the best way to help the drivers would be for taxi owners to cut vehicle rent.

'Even if we do make more money through the fare cut, they just come and take it away,' he said.

Mr Fu said that discounts were not widely available. 'Some drivers are cutting fares for long distance journeys, that's all,' Mr Fu said. 'It also depends on where passengers catch the cab. No one will give you a discount in rush hour.'

Veteran cabbie Cheung Wai-nam said a fare cut would benefit passengers more than drivers.

'It will be the passengers who get the most out of a fares cut,' said the driver with 20 years of experience. 'We drivers would not get much financial benefits, because even if we get more passengers we would get less money for them.

'But our life would become easier because when more people take taxis we don't have to wait so long for clients.'