Taxi drivers rail at pain of tunnel toll increase

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2005, 12:00am

Taking court action, cabbies say their earnings have dropped $2,000 a month

Two taxi drivers who say their earnings have dropped nearly $2,000 a month since the Eastern Harbour Tunnel tolls rose asked the High Court yesterday to scrap the increase.

Chan Yu-nam, 49, and Poon Tat-keung, 41, are seeking a judicial review of the decision by two arbitrators to allow the tunnel company to raise tolls by 67 per cent. Speaking outside court, they said their business had dropped about 10 per cent since the $25 toll came in on May 1.

Their monthly earnings dropped from nearly $9,000 to just $7,000 because many passengers opted to take the train or bus instead.

Mr Poon, a taxi driver for 18 years, said he had lost some regular customers who used to take his cab from eastern Hong Kong Island to Kwun Tong to work every morning.

'There is an added cost to the customer because of the extra $10 in toll,' he said. 'That has turned some customers away.'

The pair were accompanied by legislators Albert Chan Wai-yip and 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung to file their writ at the High Court yesterday.

Lo Siu-lan, the elderly public housing tenant who a day earlier had lost her legal battle against the listing of the Link real estate investment trust, was also there to cheer on the two taxi drivers. She handed them a banner that read 'Against privatisation of public assets' and wished them luck.

The drivers, to be represented by barrister Philip Dykes, are seeking to quash the decision by arbitrators Kenneth Rokinson QC and Barry Mortimer QC which allowed tolls to rise.

The arbitrators concluded that the tunnel operator was entitled to an internal rate of return of 15 to 17 per cent over the life of its 30-year franchise and that tolls needed to rise for the company to achieve that.

The writ argues that the arbitrators had used the wrong criteria in assessing the changes in economic conditions in Hong Kong since the tolls were last determined in 1997. It said they used absolute numbers rather than looking at the rate of change in the levels of the Hang Seng Index, consumer price index and gross domestic product.

The argument was based on written testimony from Francis Lui Ting-ming, director of the Centre for Economic Development at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Usage of the tunnel fell 20 per cent after the tolls came into effect in May.

Lawmakers have argued that the link's operator, New Hong Kong Tunnel Company, is already very profitable.

Mr Chan and Mr Poon said they used to use the tunnel two or three times a day before the tolls rose. Since May 1, they had ceased taking passengers through the tunnel.

'Rich people are making a lot of money, but they still take advantage of the little people,' Mr Chan said.

Mr Poon said: 'We represent all Hong Kong people who are against this toll increase.'