• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 2:09am
NewsHong Kong

You talking to me? Taxi drivers face phone ban

Union chief says multiple mobiles strapped to dashboards distract drivers and put lives at risk

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 10:26am

Taxi drivers should be banned from having more than two mobile phones on their dashboards, according to a cabbies' union.

The Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee said the handsets limited the view of the road, and answering phones and sending text messages distracted drivers. Its chairman Kwan Yuk-wah said he had seen one taxi driver with 12 phones strapped to his dashboard.

Using a handheld mobile phone while driving is against the law, and a police spokesman said that drivers who endanger others by handling a phone or touch-screen device may be committing an offence.

Kwan said: "Being distracted while driving and blocked windscreens could lead to traffic accidents. It poses a danger not only to the drivers themselves, but also to their passengers and other road users."

He believed 90 per cent of cabbies with multiple phones strapped to the dashboard were from "unofficial discount gangs" which accept fares below the meter rate.

Kwan estimates these drivers make up about 30 per cent of the 18,000 licensed taxi drivers.

"Their phones are for business - its their customer hotlines," he said. "But they have to answer phones or read texts, write down bookings and then communicate with their team members while driving.

"We have received a lot of complaints from terrified passengers where taxis were zigzagging across the road while drivers took phone bookings."

Kwan recommended a restriction on phones in a meeting between the Transport Department and taxi unions last month and said he raised the issue amid increasing public concern and a number of traffic accidents involving "discount cabs".

Taxi drivers interviewed by the Post yesterday welcomed the idea.

Lau Wai-wah said: "Those drivers put the safety of passengers at risk. I think it is unacceptable for taxi drivers to have more than two mobile phones in their vehicle."

Fellow cabbie Tam Tak-ming said: "Those drivers use their phones to take bookings and divert the bookings to other cabbies. I don't think they can be paying adequate attention to the traffic."

He added: "Some of my passengers have told me they don't dare get into those taxis."

A police source said officers would be looking into the problem. "We will collect information on how many taxi drivers do this and how many phones each driver has," the source said.

A spokesman for the Transport and Housing Bureau said it had been looking at how motorists used mobile phones while driving and it would be conducting a review in due time. However, at this stage, there were no plans to amend the ordinances governing the issue, he added.



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This article is now closed to comments

It is strange that somehow this 'Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee' thinks it a threat to passenger safety if a cab driver has five mobile phones, but deems it completely acceptable if a cabbie has two phones.

This is a ludicrous position. Either you deem any mobile phone activity (texting, calling, calling hands free) unsafe, or you think it is ok. How is it different if I have two or three phones? And what about phones with multiple SIM card slots then?

It is indeed obviously about wanting to crack down on discount taxis.

But that is not a safety problem, but one due to the unsustainable taxi licensing regime, which this 'Joint Committee' is happy to defend on other days. Hong Kong has not issued a single new taxi licence since 1994. That is right, ZERO additional licences in 20 years.

Of course this has driven the price of licences up to many millions (7~8 million at the moment I think?), and by proxy, taxi rates (see the recent rise of yet another 10%) - money that goes into the licence owners' pockets, not into the cab drivers. The cab drivers still make peanuts, and it is no wonder they are trying to make a buck on the side by running a discount business with 12 mobile phones on board.

Issue more licences, bring their prices down, let more of the fare money go to the cab drivers (not to the license 'investors'), and make it possible for cab drivers to own their own licence, and your discount problem will go away
OldPeak Toad
What's to be "looked into"? To be "reviewed"? It's very clear to me: Drivers who provide a public service, and get paid for it are strictly obliged to adhere to highest safety standards = NO PHONE WHILE DRIVING! Zero tolerance for alcohol - zero tolerance for operating phones.
Hong Kong taxis are shameful - drivers are rude, distracted, always on one of their many phones, and the damn radio is on too. The customer seems to be a burden. Really awful. compare to singapore taxis and hong kong should be ashamed.
Dai Muff
Of course this has ZERO to do with safety and everything to do with them not wanting the discount drivers to undercut their prices. Be honest at least.
It isn't lack of oversight. It is very simple economics. Cab drivers in Hong Kong very rarely own the vehicle they drive, and to my knowledge never own the licence needed to operate it as a cab. These licences (no news ones issued since 1994) literally cost a fortune (7~8m HKD at the moment), so it is just not within reach of the ordinary man/woman to own a license. And then there is the cost of the vehicle etc.

The people who do own the licences (and the vehicles of course) try to make as much cash flow out of their investment as possible. Hence, they pay the cab driver as little as possible. Result: you end up with the lowest quality cab drivers possible. There are exemptions, but anybody with decent chauffeuring skills and/or half a brain is better off in a different job (eg minibus driver, moving van driver, or private car / coach driver). The cabs attract the misfits of the driving profession. It is a last resort and a job reminiscent of indenture (never will you own your cab, never will you own your license, you are doomed to toll for their owners, often 12 hours or more a day).

So you can hardly blame the cab drivers in HK, who are indeed amongst the world's most grumpy, rudest and unskilled. Apologies to the minority of 'good' cabbies out there by the way, I know you do exist and am always pleasantly surprised to encounter one of you.
For me this has everything to do with road safety, travelling frequently between SZ Bay and TST East by taxi the first thing what these drivers do when they start driving is making calls or getting calls and writing addresses or tel. numbers on a pad which hangs between their multitude of phone's We have avoided many accidents by me warning them as they smacked almost in the road divider or going of SZ Bay bridge. I just simply talk my camera out and tell them to stop this nonsense. Wish I could do the same with their habit of making everyone seasick on land by not having a stable foot on the throttle/brake. Also why do they have to start taking money out of some odd difficult to reach place a few hundred meters before they reach the toll booth and thus losing sight on road and traffic around them can,s they wait till they are at the booth? and if they want to pass the booth quickly let them apply auto toll! Soemthing which should by the way be mandatory for all drivers so you reduce traffic jams at the tunnels
Deal or No Deal
With regular road traffic accidents involving taxi's and light mini buses; how many fatalities does it take for the 'Transport & Housing Bureau' to take notice. Typical government department being obsessed with bureaucracy and micro management. The law should cover all drivers including taxi's. There should be no allowance for taxi's for 2 mobile devices. Take note, taxi's in Singapore and London are businesses too which operate efficiently without the aid of a mobile dashboard office!
What is the connection between transportation and housing?
This government only reacts depending on current issue bandwagon...always too late,
for example,
-fire hazard staircases in buildings
-sub sub divided flats
-illegal structures (high officials to poor little villager)
Get a grip, less talk and more decisive action.
I agree. The standard of Hong Kong taxis is pretty low. Most drivers are uncivil, and their cabs are grubby. It is obvious that the Transport Department fails to ensue even basic standards are maintained.
These taxis also tend to reek of cigarette smoke, they're truly an unpleasant experience to be in
All I ask of a cab is a competent driver and an absence of used tissues in the door handle. Its quite rare that both occur together.



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