Drive to go plastic in taxis speeds up

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am


Passengers will be able to pay taxi fares by Visa or Octopus card in some of the city's 18,000 cabs within a few months - but some taxi unions are lukewarm about the idea.

Octopus said yesterday that 300 more cabs from Motion Power would install card readers after a successful six-month pilot scheme involving 30 taxis. Last month, Visa said that after its successful trial, card readers would be installed in 600 taxis.

Taxi owners need to pay HK$250 a month to rent an Octopus card reader. The card operator will also charge 1 per cent of drivers' daily revenue as an administration fee. The remaining money will be transferred automatically to the drivers' bank accounts the next working day.

But Kwan Yuk-wah, chairman of the Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee which represents 7,000 cabbies, said: 'There was a trial run several years ago, but drivers ended up abandoning the Octopus readers under their seats. It was not feasible to implement.'

He said drivers end up with less cash flow if people pay fares with plastic. This can cause inconvenience for them as they need cash to pay tunnel tolls, fuel and taxi rents.

The card readers are integrated with the taxi meters and display the fare amount automatically. A button is also provided for passengers to add tips, but Kwan doubted if passengers would bother to give one.

Lam Kwai-keung, chairman of the Front Line Taxi Driver Association, said he strongly opposed the scheme as the administration fee was a further financial burden on drivers. He said life had been difficult for drivers because of surging oil prices and car rents. 'We are just doing business, but Octopus is trying to extract money from us,' he said.

Sunny Cheung Yiu-tong, chief executive officer of Octopus Holdings, said he hoped more taxis would be willing to install Octopus card readers after learning about its convenience. 'Passengers can get out faster, thus [saving time for] drivers to serve more passengers. They can get more tips. And it would be safer as drivers would not need to keep too much cash,' he said.

The company had tried to speed up the time it took drivers to cash in the electronic money, but it still took one working day for banks to handle the transaction, he said.

Cheung also admitted that there had been some cases in the trial scheme where passengers had been charged the wrong amount, but he said the situation would improve with a full launch.

Some drivers do like the alternative payment method. Lam Ching-kiu, who has used an Octopus reader in his car for two months, said he could now serve two to three more passengers a shift and earned 10 per cent more, outweighing the administration fee.

'When the driver next to me is still handling change, I am ready to go,' he said.

A survey by Octopus last July showed that 90 per cent of 500 passengers interviewed welcomed the scheme, with 40 per cent saying that they would take taxis more frequently if they could pay a fare by Octopus.

Edwin Wong Ka-ho, 32, who frequently takes taxis, said he hoped more taxis could be equipped with the device.

'It will be faster and more convenient. Looking in pockets for cash or waiting for change from drivers is quite troublesome sometimes.'