Two-speed taxi meters floated

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am

One of the city's largest taxi unions has suggested an increase in short-distance journey fares but a decrease in long-distance fares to combat the threat from illegal discount taxis.

Lai Ming-hung, president of the Hong Kong Public Light Bus Owners' and Drivers' Association, said he made his suggestion on a radio programme yesterday because he had sought the views of those in the profession and felt he had their support.

According to his plan, the meter would begin at HK$17, but after passing the HK$50 mark, it would jump by only HK$1 every 200 metres or one minute of waiting time, rather than by HK$1.40.

'This should ensure a discount of 15 per cent for journeys usually worth HK$100, a 20 per cent discount for HK$200 journeys, and 30 per cent for journeys longer than that,' Mr Lai said. 'I don't drive a taxi or own a garage, so I have no interest in this matter. My suggestion should [therefore] be taken as the fairest and most objective.'

A battle between different interest groups within the taxi industry broke out last week when long-standing complaints from meter-taxi drivers led initially to a ban on radio-despatched taxis - which offer a 20 per cent discount - picking up passengers at a drop-off point at the airport instead of queuing in the taxi rank.

The plan to move the pickup point for such taxis to a distant car park triggered a slow-drive protest last week. A compromise was reached and a temporary pickup point set up nearer the airport. However, from noon today radio-taxis will no longer be allowed to pick up passengers from the temporary location.

'Our position on this is that the temporary compromise should never even have happened. Law-abiding meter-taxis queue for hours, while discount taxis can pick up clients without queuing? That's plainly unfair,' Mr Lai said.

But Kwok Chi-biu, chairman of the Urban Taxi Drivers' Association drivers' joint committee, which represents radio-taxis, said that since Mr Lai 'is not even a taxi driver himself, what right does he have to speak on our behalf?'

Mr Kwok said the new pickup point was not as remote as was originally planned. 'We will see how this operates, before we decide whether to conduct any further [protest] action,' he said.