Hong Kong could eliminate cab complaints with Octopus
Cheating cabbies are a hazard of big cities, preying on tourists and people without local knowledge. They may be a minority but they do nothing for a city's reputation. An encounter with them also leaves a bad taste in the mouth. So anyone who has ever been overcharged, or been taken out of their way to inflate the fare, or been embarrassed for our city that these things happen, would have given a wry smile at our report about a driver who touted a scam to two policemen.
Eastern Court heard that Wong Wah-wai, who was displaying an "out-of-service" sign on his meter, said to two officers posing as tourists at the Garden Road Peak Tram Terminus: "Taxi for The Peak - 150 dollars charge". They took the offer and revealed their identities when Wong tried to charge that amount, almost three times the usual fare.
Wong, 60, a repeat offender, was jailed for two months and fined HK$7,000. That has to be weighed against the cost to the taxpayer of policing and prosecution. The earlier case of cabbie Tam Hoi-chi is a different story. He became entangled with the law for six months after picking up a woman passenger outside the North Point headquarters of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. You would be unwise to trifle with anyone picked up from that address. Fifty cents hardly seems worth it. That was how much she claimed to have been "short-changed" after the driver rounded up a metered fare of HK$136.50 to HK$137 - a common practice. She later complained and the case reached court before common sense saw it dropped, though not before a waste of taxpayers' money.
Tension over fares remains the bane of the industry, not least because of the opposite of gouging - illicit discounting that encourages drivers to speed to earn more money. Octopus and credit cards would protect both drivers and passengers. Ironically, many drivers are reluctant to adopt them because they do not want to sacrifice the chance of earning a tip for good service. But officials and the industry should aim at greater acceptance.