Cab Chat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2008, 12:00am

The slaughter of chickens because of bird flu saddens Wong Cho-kwong, 40, but he can't see any other way to protect the city

I feel sorry about the slaughter of chickens but I don't think we can blame the government for doing that. If they carry the deadly H5N1 disease we have to do all we can to get rid of them, and it seems killing them all is the safest way to do so.

Some people say the government is overreacting and being cold-blooded, and that even if a chicken is infected, it is safe to eat when it is completely cooked. But who knows what will happen when someone kills the chicken and prepares it when it is still raw? We have no choice. If we act only after things happen, it will be too late.

The government has become a lot more cautious about health issues since Sars and this is only fair. We did not choose to kill the chickens; the disease caused us to kill them.

The chicken farmers are the most unlucky because their efforts are wasted, but they receive some sort of compensation from the government. But how about us drivers? Life is simply difficult these days because of the crazy increase in fuel prices, and also inflation in almost everything.

We taxi drivers are paying 40 per cent more for fuel compared with one year ago, and for us who don't own our own taxi, we have to pay HK$500 in rent for taxi a day, and maybe HK$250 for fuel. And these days, not many people take taxis. So many of us can only manage to cover the costs and make a very, very meagre living.

But if you ask me whether I will quit driving a taxi, then the answer is no, just like my friends. We have been trained to drive for more than 10 years and we don't have much education. There is no way out, unless the government helps us drivers by reducing fuel taxes. We are talking about the livelihood of thousands of drivers and their families.

I am glad to see that some truck and bus drivers have organised protests and slow-drives. The government must respond quickly or it will see more and more actions with increasing intensity. What makes us frustrated is that the government is so rich now and it allows the oil companies to manipulate market prices despite our difficulties.

Another issue we taxi drivers are facing is the competition from the 'discount gang' who offer 20 per cent off to passengers. They used to offer discounts on long journeys only, but now they are offering discounts on fares of HK$50 upwards. It is squeezing out whatever little profit that can be made with the crazy fuel prices, so the 'discount gang' are not actually making a lot more money. On the contrary, they are committing slow suicide because they are encouraging a vicious circle of cutthroat price competition in the industry. This is really dirty.

Some passengers have asked me to offer a discount when they board, but I have refused to do so. There are, though, also kind people who never bargain and are even willing to pay extra for the trip because they appreciate our hard work, and this is very heartening.

The government should legislate against this illegal discounting so that passengers will not expect us to give in. It should make a law and go as far as arresting those who offer discounts to passengers. Otherwise discounting will become an unspoken norm and our lives will become ever-more difficult.

I think it would be great if we could increase taxi fares, charging more when the flag goes up and reducing rates for longer journeys. It is important that we have a fair starting point for everyone.

The taxi service is important ... it is important to create jobs and important for users. It is a tough industry, too. Like that day when the Tai O flood happened, a lot of roads in Hong Kong were flooded but we still had to drive, using the safest and fastest routes possible. We know the black spots for flooding by heart and we try to avoid them, but still there is a certain amount of danger to driving in a rainstorm.

There is always flooding in the rainy season, but I think the government could do more to prevent flooding on the roads.

It is better to spend time and effort doing preventive work instead of remedial work, and it can save us a lot of danger and trouble.