Rural taxi drivers seek surcharge as fuel prices soar
Taxi operators in the New Territories have renewed their calls for the introduction of a fuel surcharge in the face of rising LPG prices.
Sixteen groups protested at the government headquarters in Admiralty yesterday, demanding the surcharge on top of regular fares once the price of LPG reaches a threshold.
They want a surcharge of HK$1 if LPG costs HK$5 to HK$5.99 a litre and HK$2 if LPG prices rise to HK$6 to HK$6.99 litre.
International LPG prices had risen sharply over the past year, said Chung Kam-keung, the representative of the groups.
World prices have risen 42 per cent to HK$5.10 a litre from HK$3.60 a year ago. Locally, they will rise to between HK$5.97 and HK$6.41 a litre next month from HK$5.28 and HK$5.72 this month, according to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. In January, prices were between HK$4.28 and HK$4.69.
The groups said the surcharge could be reviewed monthly, based on an average derived from retail prices at 12 filling stations, whose price ceilings were set by the government.
'Taxi drivers pay an additional HK$30 to HK$50 per shift on LPG. They earn less than HK$9,000 a month, and the hourly rate could drop below the minimum wage,' Chung said.
Calls for a fuel surcharge have been made for years, but the government preferred a fare rise application than the introduction of a surcharge.
A Transport Department spokesman said it would treat the proposal with caution, as a surcharge would pass on rising fuel costs to passengers. He also said taxi drivers should consider a flagfall price rise.
However, Chung said a surcharge would be a more flexible solution than a fare rise. 'Once the government approves a fare rise, it's hard to lower it. But a surcharge can be adjusted following changes in LPG prices,' he said.
In 1990, the government approved a temporary fuel surcharge because of disruptions to supplies during the Gulf war.
Lawmakers agreed it was time to consider reintroducing a surcharge.
It could be a temporary measure to help drivers before the government approved a fare increase, transport sector legislator Miriam Lau Kin-yee said. 'Usually, it takes the government a year to approve a fare rise. But drivers need to pay for higher fuel costs immediately,' she said.
Legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said increasing the flagfall price was not the best solution in the face of large fluctuations in fuel prices.
Cheng said the government was trying to ignore the issue.
It would be fair to passengers and drivers if a mechanism was established for imposing surcharges, he said. When fuel costs fell, the charge could be abolished, he said.
Earlier this month, urban taxi operators applied to raise the flagfall price by HK$3 to HK$23.
The additional costs, in HK dollars, cabbies in the New Territories are facing per shift with the increasein LPG prices