Transport operators to protest in go-slows
Taxis, minibuses and shuttle buses take their row with each other to the streets
Two groups of public transport operators say they plan to stage go-slow drives involving several hundred vehicles today from Sha Tin to the Central Government Offices - in protest against each other.
Taxi and minibus operators will start their protest at 10am, after meetings with the government failed to result in a satisfactory resolution to their complaints over the emergence of non-franchised bus services.
They claim non-franchised services are illegal and have taken business away from them.
Operators of the non-franchised buses, meanwhile, say they will start their own go-slow protest at 7pm, to fight for their right to keep operating.
After meeting the two groups separately yesterday morning, Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung, called for calm, saying that she hoped 'neither side will take any rash actions'.
'I urge the operators not to be too emotional and inconvenience the public.'
Dr Liao said the government has undertaken to conduct a review of the licensing structure of the non-franchised buses, which is expected to last six months.
In the meantime, the Transport Department has been instructed to 'continue fighting illegal bus services and operators', she said.
'We will step up enforcement within the current legislation.'
The biggest bone of contention for the taxi and minibus operators has been the emergence of unlicensed bus services offering services from major private housing estates to the downtown core, such as one so-called 'shopping excursion bus service' from Whampoa Gardens in Hunghom to Central.
While billed as a shopping service, the minibus operators say it has taken a large share of their passengers during the morning and afternoon peak commuting periods.
However, Dr Liao acknowledged that there were 'grey areas' in the existing transport legislation which some of the non-franchised bus operators have taken advantage of.
To solve the problem would require changes to improve the current licensing system, she said.
These grey areas include a 14-day grace period for non-franchised bus operators to operate their vehicles for special functions and on-hire contracts, such as for show-flat viewings by property developers and at weddings.
'However, some people utilise this 14-day grace period and continue to run a long-term service. And that's where a lot of the arguments arise. So we plan to tighten up the ... licences,' Dr Liao said.
She said the six-month review period was needed because of the complexity of the present system.
Li Wing-sang, chairman of the Motor Transport Workers General Union, which represents some of the taxi and minibus drivers, said: 'The fact is, we are not protected [by the government]. If the law has loopholes, maybe we need a change.
'This has been a long-term problem; it's not new,' he said.
Dr Liao said the protests were organised and have already been registered with the police.