Cab Chat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 December, 2008, 12:00am

Lam Ka-chun, 50, feels the government was wrong not to send charter flights to Thailand to help stranded holidaymakers until someone died

The biggest news last week was of course the fiasco in Thailand. The Hong Kong government only promised to send charter flights after a person died in a minibus crash on his way to Phuket. I think the government has done a very bad job. It should have understood right away that political unrest in Thailand was going to affect thousands of Hong Kong tourists. Why could Macau do it but we couldn't?

The government should also bear the biggest responsibility for the death in the minibus accident. If it had sent charter flights earlier, the couple would not have needed to rush to Phuket and they would not have been in the accident.

As usual, the government changed its attitude completely after a serious accident. Just a few days earlier, it was making excuses for not sending charter flights, but all excuses suddenly vanished right after the person died. I think the government is unable to deal with crises. During the colonial era it seemed that nothing of this sort happened.

The big news to us drivers is of course the start of the new taxi fare policy, which resulted in green-taxi drivers blockading the North Lantau Expressway. I don't think they should do this - disrupting the operation of the airport. Just like the Bangkok protesters paralysing their international airport, the blockade created a bad impression among tourists, scaring them off. Luckily there was the Airport Express, but still it was inconvenient to people who were in a hurry.

The green-taxi drivers are just making a fuss. The fare cut was planned a long time ago and if they had any problems with it they should have voiced their opinions long ago. Moreover, some airport taxi drivers are dishonest. While they are waiting for passengers they deliberately leave the meter running, only stopping it before a tourist gets in. Thus their taxi fares start at HK$30 or so, not HK$16.

Anyway, cutting taxi fares alone cannot save our business. The government should do more to combat the 'discount drivers' who offer 20 per cent off to their clients. I suspect that some of the troublemakers were actually these discount drivers, since the new fare system has drawn some of their clients away.

I am very scared that the government might scrap the fare cut. It is simply not forceful enough. Whenever there is opposition it withdraws its original proposals. The fare cut was not a rush decision and when a policy is right the government should go full-steam ahead. I welcome the new taxi fares. Temporarily we are losing clients but in the long run I think they will return. Eighty per cent of our passengers make short trips and on average we earn HK$3 more per trip. If we drive 20 trips a day, that means HK$60 more in our pockets. On the other hand I think it is fair to give a discount to long-haul clients. The taxi business is not as gloomy as some drivers portrayed. Other than the new fare system, which will benefit our business, gas prices have dropped by HK$40 to HK$50 per shift.

But more people are considering entering the business after being laid off by big enterprises. With a taxi licence, they think they can become professional drivers easily. Having more competitors is certainly not a good thing.

The big corporations should not lay off people at this time of year. For example, TVB is still making a lot of money. This would definitely affect employees' morale. Workers are the most important asset of a company. I think the worst is yet to come. After the Lunar New Year more people might be laid off. So now I dare not waste any money.

On a lighter note, Michelin has rated our city's restaurants. Its choices are not representative of Hong Kong cuisine at all, though. Almost all of the picks are the high-end chic restaurants, which we from the lower class can never afford to visit.

I would not take my passengers to those Michelin-star restaurants. They are not authentic Hong Kong food and, more important, they are extremely expensive. One can never dine in those restaurants without paying thousands of dollars. Tourists might feel that this is a scam.