Taxi drivers demand toll exemption
Representatives seek a one-year grace period from increase, otherwise they will consider industrial campaign
Taxi drivers yesterday demanded that cabs carrying no passengers be exempted from paying the new Eastern Harbour Tunnel toll for at least one year.
Eight representatives from a coalition of urban taxi associations made the request at a meeting with executives of the New Hong Kong Tunnel Company yesterday, before the new toll comes into effect on Sunday.
The coalition represents 16 driver groups and cab operators in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island.
Following the government's request to the tunnel operator, the company has given taxi drivers not carrying passengers until July 1 before they have to pay the new toll of $25, up from $15.
However, those carrying passengers will start paying the new toll from Sunday.
But David Leung Siu-cheong, chairman of the Taxi Operators Association and one of the representatives who attended the meeting, said it would make it too expensive for people to cross the harbour in a cab.
'If they raise the return toll, our passengers would have to pay $50 just for the tunnel toll,' he said. 'This would be a very big burden for the customer. In the long run, they would opt for other types of public transport.'
Mr Leung argued that extending the return-toll concession would benefit the tunnel company and ease traffic congestion at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel because more people would cross the eastern tunnel by taxi.
He added that the taxi industry hoped to get a reply on the concession extension by the end of next month.
If the company refused their request, he said they might take industrial action.
The taxi groups are also requesting the Transport Department to create more taxi stands at tunnel entrances. People who hail a taxi at these stands would not have to pay the return toll charge.
Kwok Chi-piu, chairman of the Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee, said the stands would encourage more passengers to take taxis and drivers who need to cross the harbour to find customers.
'We hope to use the tunnel taxi stands to minimise the impact of this crazy toll hike,' he said.
The trade suggested more than 30 locations for the stands, including areas in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon Bay, Quarry Bay and Chai Wan.
A Transport Department spokesman said officials had received the request and would review the locations before replying to the drivers. There are currently about a dozen such taxi stands.
Separately, a survey by the Democratic Party found that 81.3 per cent of 530 respondents interviewed by phone said they did not accept the eastern tunnel toll rise.
Meanwhile, truck drivers' groups are also planning a protest over the increase in tolls for heavy trucks from $45 to $75.