Training course a good, but small, step in improving Hong Hong’s taxis

With more and more potential passengers turning to car-hailing services like Uber, the traditional service needs to step up to the competition

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 11:05pm

Hong Kong authorities have made clear through arrests and prosecutions that car-hire services like Uber are illegal. Customers are not deterred, though; they continue to turn to the companies’ smartphone app-based operations, preferring what is on offer over that of traditional taxis. That leaves taxi operators and drivers with little option other than to adapt and improve. A four-hour training course to raise standards is a good, but small, step.

The course is being run by the Hong Kong Taxi Trade Council, a coalition representing more than half the city’s 40,000 drivers and 17 industry groups set up last November to head off competition from the newcomers. It will launch an app in May that will allow passengers to call cabs and rate the service they receive. To qualify for inclusion in the pilot scheme of 500 taxis, about 3 per cent of the total, drivers have to pass a test that includes knowledge of skills and manners. These would seem fundamentals for anyone involved in a service industry, but are sadly on occasion lacking.

That is borne out by the number of complaints against taxi drivers, which hit an all-time high of 10,000 in 2014. Most commonly heard are claims of rudeness, overcharging and refusing fares. Whether a short course can change such habits is debatable, but it at least recognises the problems and the need to change. Unless concerted efforts are made, though, the shift to alternatives will continue.

Uber and its ilk thrive on convenience, transparency, efficiency, and vehicles and drivers that provide higher standards. Some taxi drivers have protested against the presence of such services and the government has backed their concerns with office raids, arrests and fines. But the car-hailing genie is out of the bottle and business as usual is not an option for the industry. The right course is being set through stepping up to the competition. But Uber and the like have an important place and they have to work with authorities to make their operations legal.