Legco nod for new green taxi fare scale

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 December, 2008, 12:00am

Plan needs approval from Exco, committee

Legislators yesterday backed a proposal that allows New Territories taxis to charge more on short-haul trips and less on long-distance journeys, leaving only two more steps for the plan to take effect.

They also gave up their right to a 28-day period in which they can propose amendments to the related legislation, so the new fares can take effect the day the law is gazetted - which the transport minister expects to be in mid-January. The plan has still to be endorsed by the Transport Advisory Committee and approved by the Executive Council.

Drivers of green taxis have complained they are losing business to urban taxis, which have already adopted a similar fare system.

But yesterday's endorsement by the Legislative Council transport panel came in the face of opposition from two of the 13 New Territories taxi associations who attended the meeting. Lam Kwai-keung, an opponent who participated in last Wednesday's blockade at the airport and Happy Valley racecourse, urged the government to conduct a thorough survey to gauge opinions from both taxi owners and drivers.

'You should learn from history. Your method of consultation doesn't work,' he said, referring to a plan to cut the fares of green taxis during Sars in 2003, when taxi business plunged.

Ten taxi associations filed the proposal at that time, but shortly after the plan's execution drivers staged a large road blockade. The government then launched the so-called 'one-taxi-three-votes' survey, collecting opinions from the owner, day-shift driver and night-shift driver of each taxi. The plan was later revoked.

The other 11 groups attending yesterday's meeting agreed that the survey be conducted, but only after launching the plan. 'We do not wish to support this plan, but we have to because, otherwise, the urban taxis will charge less than us and snatch our business,' said Leong Yee-weng of the New Territories Taxi Drivers' Rights Alliance.

He said a green taxi radio operator had received a booking call from a passenger wanting to go from Tai Po to the airport - but in a red urban cab.

Green taxi operator Ng Kwan-sing, who also operates an urban taxi business, said red cabbies' day-time income had risen after the new fare model was introduced on November 30, but night-shift cabbies had not seen a significant increase as illegal discount gangs were still cutting fares to attract long-haul passengers.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah of the Civic Party urged the government to cut short a six-month study and propose a law soon to ban passengers from fare bargaining. 'I don't see any difficulty for you to add in the law that drivers must not accept any fare bargaining,' he said. 'We are ready to scrutinise the bill tomorrow.'

At present, drivers are not allowed to offer discounts but passengers can ask for them.

But Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng said time was needed to study how such a law should be implemented. 'Who should we punish? The driver or the passenger and how?' she said.