Archaic taxi services need overhaul

The authorities and the industry need to rethink how best to serve customers in an age when people can hail a comfortable and convenient ride using apps

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 12:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 12:53am

Taxi fares are going up and as usual when such announcements are made about public transport, there is a negative reaction among some people. The new taxi fares that come into effect on April 9 will lift the cost per trip by about 9 per cent, a not unreasonable proposition given the boosts in income and inflation. But whether justified or not, there will always be expectations of better service whenever charges are raised. Competition and technology require that rides should be ever-more convenient, comfortable and cost-effective.

The taxi industry has not adequately responded to Uber and similar app-based car-hailing services. While a scheme to improve drivers’ skills and knowledge has been implemented and some taxis can now be booked through apps and have Wi-fi, the vast majority of vehicles operate at below the standard of competitors. Worse, a number still pick and choose customers, refusing trips despite laws against such a practice. It does not help that Hong Kong is split into three fare zones that discourage drivers from taking passengers from one to another.

Hong Kong taxi fares set to rise after HK$2 increase in flag fall approved

This can mean that a passenger travelling from the New Territories to Hong Kong Island may have to use three taxis. It also causes frustration, particularly at peak times, with Kowloon and Hong Kong drivers often refusing to operate in one another’s zones. GPS should negate this from happening, yet the excuse of unfamiliarity is still commonplace. Too many vehicles are also dirty and poorly maintained and helmed by drivers who are sullen or impolite. It is little wonder that Uber and its like, despite operating illegally due to the government not offering licences, are so favoured by some travellers; they can be booked by app for a particular time at a known fare and will go wherever they are told. Slowly, the licensed operaters are meeting the challenge, but too many are still clinging to an outdated mindset. Competition is good and necessary and the government has to open up the industry. But in doing so, as much as franchise holders and operators, it has to review and rethink to meet the changed circumstances.