Urban taxi drivers set to back fare cuts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 12:00am

A survey of the industry is expected to support the measure to boost business

Urban taxi drivers and owners are expected to support temporary fare concessions in the hope such a move will increase business.

But some taxi associations say police and the government still need to do more to combat illegal discounting, since this is depressing drivers' incomes even more than low passenger numbers.

A Transport Department spokeswoman said a survey of the urban taxi trade by Maunsell Consultants, for the government, was nearly finished. 'The consultant is still doing the analysis of the survey and we hope to have it ready by early [this] week,' she said.

At a meeting three weeks ago of representatives of 16 of the 29 taxi associations, the vote was 11 to 5 in favour of a three-month concession scheme under which, once a fare reached $29, it would rise by $1 instead of $1.40 with each click of the meter.

Kwok Chi-pui, chairman of the Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee, which has about 6,000 members - of which 5,000 rent the taxis they drive - said he saw the need to reduce fares temporarily to combat illegal discounting among a few drivers.

'We don't really like it, but the scheme has its use in combating illegal discounting. The government doesn't care about illegal discounts, they refuse to prosecute, so we have to do more on our own to become more competitive,' he said.

'At first we didn't want fare discounts, we wanted rental discounts. But that has happened already, and our trouble with falling income is still continuing, so we need to do something else now to stimulate our trade,' Mr Kwok said.

Ng Kwok-hung, chairman of the 5,000-member Fraternity Taxi Owners Association, said the fare cut was 'not a bad idea given the economic circumstances the drivers now faced'.

'I don't agree with a permanent cut, but I agree with a limited special offer for passengers lasting three to six months,' he said.

Wu Yim-chun, chairwoman of the Chuen Lee Radio Taxis Association, said she had also voted in favour of the concession scheme.

'Our competitiveness is important. The question is: How do we compete with other means of transport? People take taxis because they are lazy. But they are also worried about the economy, so a discount will help bring back some of these people to taxis,' Ms Wu said.

Cheung Yiu-fung, a spokesman for the Traffic Services Employees Association, a union of about 1,200 drivers, said it was one of three associations that presented the Transport Department with a letter opposing the concession scheme on May 20. The other associations were the 8,000-member Motor Transport Workers General Union and the Hong Kong Kowloon Taxi and Lorry Owners Association. Mr Cheung said: 'We don't think discounts will pull passengers away from cheaper public transport, like buses, and it won't stop the illegal discounting.'

Meanwhile, Tang Kwong-sheng, a spokesman for the New Territories Taxi Drivers Association, said the performance of the concession scheme implemented on Sunday continued to be disappointing. But he said no further protests were planned given the government's promise on Sunday to review the scheme after one month.