Taxi drivers should embrace technology

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 3:18am

A telltale sign that a taxi driver may be offering illegal discounts on fares is the number of mobile phones he has on his dashboard. The discount taxi gangs take orders from handheld devices by talking on the phone or texting. Sometimes this involves taking multiple orders, all the while driving passengers to a destination. The distraction poses a danger not only to their clients, but other road users.

Of course, it's not illegal to have cell phones mounted on the dashboard. But it should be enough of a safety concern for authorities to crack down on the practice. While police officers may not have enough evidence to make an arrest or stop an operation, there is nothing to prevent them from issuing warnings to suspicious taxi drivers with too many phones on their dashboards. Enough warnings about safety could amount to an offence.

The Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee estimates up to 30 per cent of 18,000 licensed taxi drivers are involved in offering discounts by co-ordinating and sharing routes with other drivers. This amounts to a significant number of trips where driver attention is distracted and safety compromised. Police don't have separate statistics on taxi accidents that involved using cell phones, but it's probably fair to assume such cases exist.

The committee thinks drivers should be banned from having more than two phones mounted on their dashboards. Actually, it doesn't go far enough. In fact, technology has superseded this old way of running discount operations. Smart phone apps now offer to match fares and destinations for drivers and customers. Drivers should be encouraged to make more efficient use of such apps. Customers should report dangerous drivers.

In a modern city like Hong Kong, our taxi drivers show great professionalism and pride. They should not behave like their counterparts in third-world cities where safety awareness is lower and regulation and enforcement are inadequate.