Cab Chat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 January, 2009, 12:00am

Paul Leung fears business in this economic downtown will be worse than during the Sars crisis, because people still had money to spend during Sars

My New Year wish is that the money I earn is equivalent to the effort I make. That is not too much to ask for, I hope. My working hours become longer and longer. I used to work for eight to nine hours and now I work from 5pm to 5am. My target is to have about HK$1,000 of turnover every day. I don't mind working hard, but it is very discouraging if I still cannot reach my target after all the effort. I already have to endure long hours and look for customers very hard. If I still cannot reach my target every day, I will feel very upset.

The government thought introducing the fare reduction for long journeys and a fare increase for short hauls could help us. But it does not work that way. I now have to work longer hours to make up money I lose for taking every long journey. If I have plenty of short journeys, I will definitely avoid taking up long-haul passengers. It is not cost-effective.

The meter might jump to over HK$200 if I take a passenger to Tuen Mun, for example, but it takes about 45 minutes going to Tuen Mun from Quarry Bay and it costs more in fuel.

And if I fail to find a passenger in Tuen Mun going to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island, I have to drive back empty. But I can make that amount if I do three to four short journeys with each trip costing HK$50 to HK$60. The time needed is certainly less than 45 minutes. Also, a trip from Quarry Bay to Tuen Mun used to cost more than HK$300 and now it is less than HK$300 - which means I will lose money for every long journey.

We wanted more long journeys in the past because there was no reduction in the fare. But with the new fare scheme, we are losing passengers taking short trips and losing money when making long journeys.

The government kept saying it had already consulted taxi unions. But these unions only have maybe a couple dozen members who might not be frontline taxi drivers. They might be bosses of car companies who rent out taxis to drivers. Their interests are totally different from drivers. Their concern is how to persuade the government to introduce a fare scheme that is favourable to them.

Some drivers are quite worried, as they might have to pay higher rent for their cars later. Drivers who mostly make short journeys in theory will make more money because fares have been increased. If this really happens, the new fare scheme again only brings advantages to big businessmen who rent cars to drivers.

The extra money drivers make on short journeys will eventually end up in these businessmen's pockets. Taxi drivers don't benefit from the new fare scheme, which was meant to help us.

The taxi business was very bad in October and November when the stock market started to plunge. Nobody wanted to take taxis and the feeling was horrible. Many drivers thought about changing jobs and joining the trade again when the economy improved.

But the situation seemed better during Christmas. Business was not as bad as expected. Many party-goers hung out until 4am or 5am and I had really busy times in the early mornings. I guess business during Lunar New Year will not be too bad. All drivers hope we can make some more money during the festive season, but we believe business will drop again after the festival.

While some drivers want to leave the trade, newcomers keep joining because the economy has worsened. It happens all the time when the economy worsens. I became a taxi driver in 2003 when the Sars [severe acute respiratory syndrome] epidemic badly affected the city's economy.

Business was not that bad back in 2003, as many people preferred taking taxis to buses. Passengers found that the ventilation was much better in taxis, as they could open the windows. Also, they still had money to spend. But the situation is different this time. The economic crisis is affecting the whole world. As economists and government officials say, the situation will be worse after the Lunar New Year.