cab chat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2003, 12:00am

Law Chi-yuen, 35, has come up with a way to improve business and is working with a network of cabbies to provide a cheaper and better service. Ride from Quarry Bay to Sai Kung. Cost:$248.4.

Some of the big typhoon days can really boost business. I am not saying we charge exorbitant fees, it's just that there is more business on these days. I can make at least double on typhoon days. Of course, it comes with a certain level of risk because the vehicle will not be covered by insurance. I have to be extra careful because safety is of utmost importance.

I can't just bank on typhoon days for better business, so I have devised a creative way to improve my income. I work with a network of about 100 cabbies, operating unofficially as a call centre between us to provide a 24-hour service to regular passengers.

We are connected by mobile phones and when a passenger calls we will immediately despatch whoever is in the vicinity. On average, our customers will have to wait no more than two minutes. And the most attractive part of the deal is we give a 20 per cent discount. So our customers really have the best of both worlds, with efficiency and a discount.

Yes, we are the ones other cabbies call the discount gang and very often we are accused of ruining the taxi trade. I think it is all about survival. If we don't change with the times, especially in this economic climate, I don't see how we can keep drawing people to take taxis. The improved public transport infrastructure has priced us out of the market. We don't really provide a competitive service anymore. That's why some of us have decided to make business adjustments to make our business more viable.

Our loosely organised system works for everybody, both cabbies and passengers. It is all about providing a good service to customers to make them keep coming back and keep the trade going. I think we are doing more good than harm to the taxi trade.

I am only a small fry in the business. I have heard there is a cabbie who makes between $50,000 and $60,000 a month, running a similar operation. He is said to have about 1,000 regular customers and operates with a network of 100 cabbies. What he does is give smaller fares such as those under $100 to other cabbies and keeps anything above $100 to himself. So, you can just imagine if you operate on a 12-hour shift and have at least 15 customers a day, it wouldn't be hard to achieve that target.

I heard that that cabbie, who is affectionately known as Sze Foo or 'Master', is a pioneer of this discounted-fare concept. He apparently started the operation on a much smaller scale about four years ago.

Over the years he has accumulated his customer base. And he knows he couldn't possibly provide a good service all by himself so he has a network of operators who sort of work with and for him. His concept works and it has proved that even the taxi trade can be rather creative. I am just copying his successful formula.

I know our unofficial discount practice is drawing a lot of criticism and maybe it is even bordering on an illegal operation. But I think we are really doing the best we can to keep the trade afloat by giving the business a more competitive edge.

So if we are guilty of anything, I think we are guilty of being creative. If the other cabbies don't like it they can join us instead of fighting us. There is no point bickering with each other. We are in the same boat and I don't think any one of us would like to see it sink.

The discount concept works well not only because it is cheaper and better but because we also provide people with familiarity and a friendly service. People prefer to have somebody they know drive them home late at night rather than a total stranger. This is especially true with female passengers. We have a lot of female customers at night. So besides cost and efficiency, the safety factor also works to our advantage.

As told to Luisa Tam