Taxi woes see Airport Express travellers come to screeching halt

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 December, 2009, 12:00am

You've been flying for 12 hours, you're tired and you want to get home or to your hotel room ASAP. So you take the 23-minute Airport Express ride to Central. Then you find yourself waiting an hour for a taxi.

It's not the welcome most people expect in Hong Kong - and it's creating a bad impression of the city, the tourism sector lawmaker says.

Travellers report queues of 100 or more people at the Airport Express terminus' taxi stand, and the Christmas shopping season is making the problem worse.

'The flight was on time, the Airport Express a wonder,' said Angelo Paratico, who lives in Mid-Levels. 'Then, at [Hong Kong] station, tired passengers had to wait for one hour to get a taxi, just because the drivers all change shift at the same time.'

At least two other passengers have complained to the Sunday Morning Post of the same problem.

'I will be contributing to the fall in usage of the Airport Express after catching the train from the airport to Hong Kong station for the last time,' said Alan Olsen, who also lives in Mid-Levels. 'About 150 passengers were queuing for taxis at the pick-up point.'

Hiring a cab in Central on a Friday evening is often a nightmare, but a Post reporter who visited the Hong Kong station at 5.30pm on Friday found more than 80 people in four queues. People near the front of one queue said they had been waiting for 20 to 30 minutes. A local designer in the queue, who often uses the taxi stand, said the queue was moving relatively quickly. 'Sometimes the wait is an hour,' he said.

Farther down the queue, the mood was decidedly less festive.

A banker who has been living in Hong Kong for three years and travels at least once a month said he had been waiting for at least half an hour. The queue on Friday was 'particularly bad', he said.

Some passengers did not mind the wait, though. An Australian couple who had been there for 20 minutes said they found Hong Kong an efficient place and were prepared for the rush-hour traffic. 'A lot of people are coming in on the plane,' Veronica, one of the visitors, said. 'You have to make allowances.'

Taxi driver Kwok Chi-piu said he once received a HK$20 lai see, or red packet, from a traffic warden at the Airport Express' Kowloon station as an incentive to enter the taxi stand.

The veteran unionist said most drivers preferred to give the taxi stands a miss if they could find fares elsewhere. 'We have to spend about 10 minutes waiting for the taxis ahead to pick up their passengers,' he said.

Taxi driver Low Shih-cheng said the situation in Central was worse. 'Everybody leaves the business district at office closing hours and the sudden surge in traffic jams Gloucestor Road and traps all eastbound traffic - including many taxis that can't return to Central quick enough,' he said.

More people are out doing their Christmas shopping, compounding the jams.

And drivers change shifts at 5pm, according to traffic controllers from JSL Limited, the company that oversees the Airport Express taxi stands.

Paul Tse Wai-chun, the lawmaker for the tourism sector, said the long wait for a taxi would hurt efforts to promote Hong Kong as a tourism hub.

The MTR said there were enough taxis most of the time. Staff would help passengers call for taxis during busy hours.

For now, taxi driver Low has one suggestion for commuters heading to Mid-Levels and the south side of Hong Kong Island: hire a cab opposite the taxi drop-off point outside the ground-level departure hall to avoid the congested eastbound traffic.