Taxi groups unite against discount ideas

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2007, 12:00am

A leading taxi group has mobilised major taxi unions to speak out against proposals that could lead to the legal discounting of fares.

The Motor Transport Workers' General Union - the largest of the 27 taxi associations in Hong Kong - insisted the only effective way to combat illegal touting activities was to penalise passengers who bargain on fares.

The government released a pamphlet as part of a public consultation that began on Monday, asking drivers and passengers if they would prefer to vary fares, provided there was a ceiling.

In one of the two suggested models - based on overseas examples - the maximum fares would be set by the operators, and in the other, the upper limits would be decided by the government, and the operators would have to apply for permission to charge less.

Both models forbid drivers to offers further discounts.

But the union's taxi director, To Sun-tong, said that would not eliminate unfair competition by the so-called discount taxi gangs.

'You set the price lower, [the gangs] set it even lower, and in the end it would only trigger a throat-cutting race among drivers for lower fares. The trade would not be able to survive,' he said.

Mr To said if the government would make it illegal for passengers to bargain, the whole problem would be settled.

It is now illegal for drivers to offer discounts.

The union and its 22 allied taxi associations would protest outside the headquarters of the Transport and Housing Bureau in Central today.

The trade had proposed various options that would lower fares for long-haul trips, but they were voted down by the union and its allies in a meeting with the Transport Department in July.

Kwok Chi-piu, chairman of an independent taxi driver union, said many groups who claim to be victims of the discount taxi gangs were offering discounts themselves.

'Drivers who are snatching others' business by offering discounts, of course, hope the practice would not be legalised, because they would then lose their edges,' he said.

Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association chairman Brandon Tong Yeuk-fung said the proposals were not likely to be welcomed by taxi owners either, because a reduction in fares may eventually lead to lower rental charges for the taxi and thus push down the price of a taxi licence - which has remained steady at about HK$3.5 million in the past few years.