Proposed ban on taxi fare bargaining 'too hard to enforce'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 September, 2009, 12:00am

The government will not introduce a law making taxi fare bargaining an offence despite most taxi groups saying it is the best solution to tackle the so-called discount gangs.

Of the 31 taxi owners and drivers associations at a Legislative Council transport panel meeting yesterday, 27 supported a law to prevent passengers from fare-bargaining.

But an official said enforcing such a law would be difficult.

The taxi drivers said a new charging model implemented last year, which increased fares for short trips and cut those for longer ones, had not only cut their income but had also failed to stop illegal taxi gangs from stealing their business.

The law now requires taxi drivers to charge according to the meter, but there is no legislation to stop passengers from bargaining.

Transport Department figures show the average monthly net income for an urban taxi driver rose about 10 per cent from HK$9,188 to HK$10,149 in the four months after the new fare system was introduced last December.

But the assistant commissioner for transport, Don Ho Yue-man, admitted the rise was mainly caused by a drop in costs and fuel prices, while the amount of fares collected had actually fallen slightly.

'A passenger will be arrested if he does not pay the exact fare on a bus, but there is no such rule to protect us,' taxi radio dispatcher Chan Wai-ming, who represents one of the associations, said.

Driver Wong Wing-chung, of the North West Area Taxi Drivers and Operators Association, said: 'If there is a law [to penalise passengers on fare-bargaining], then they cannot press us or even beat us into giving them discounts.'

But Undersecretary for Transport and Housing Yau Shing-mu said it would be difficult to enforce such a law and no such laws existed anywhere else.

'The bargaining is a private deal between the driver and the passengers,' he said. 'While it may not be absolutely unenforceable, how many resources would we have to use and how much nuisance would it cause [to enforce this law]?'

He said that under present laws, taxi drivers could refuse to give a discount even if the passenger asked for it, and if people became aggressive the driver could seek help from the police.

But lawmaker Ronnie Tong Ka-wah said that trouble enforcing such a law should not be an excuse for not serving justice. 'Is it easy to enforce the no-smoking ban in public places? Or drink-driving?' he asked.

Yau said smoking and drink-driving could be easily monitored, but fare-bargaining was usually a private agreement between two willing parties and would be difficult to prove without witnesses.

The panel passed a motion demanding the government consider a law on taxi-fare bargaining.