Hong Kong taxi drivers pick up some tips on new course to raise standards

Cabbies ponder a life-and-death scenario to develop their ability to handle conflicts and learn the importance of good manners

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 May, 2017, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 May, 2017, 10:52pm

Over the edge of a steep mountain cliff, three lives are literally hanging by a thread. They are only supported by a climbing rope hooked to the edge with their bodies dangling in the air.

A girl is at the top of the rope, her brother in the middle and their father at the bottom.

They all know they are going to die together soon as the hook that supports the rope cannot hold their weight. The father tells his son to cut him off the rope to save themselves. What should the boy do?

This was the life-or-death situation taxi driver Ng Pan-hoi, 38, and his peers were invited to ponder and discuss in a new course for the city’s cabbies to improve their service standards and resolve conflicts with customers.

“I find this activity very interesting. I think this question raises the fundamental struggle between reason and sensibility,” Ng, a cabbie of 13 years, said.

“Some of our classmates choose to die together with the family while some thought the son should give up on the father to save himself and his sister. In the end we think practicality should prevail. Saving two lives is always better than losing three lives,” he concluded.

Ng said he was inspired by the thinking process, believing that the value judgment he made could be applied to his everyday life as well as his job for him to turn a difficult situation around.

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“From this course I have started to learn not to let my emotions override my good sense, which can allow me to serve my customers better and easily resolve any conflicts with them,” he said.

The pilot course, consisting of four hours’ training and a one-hour assessment, was launched last week by the Vocational Training Council to address the needs of the taxi industry as it battles to repair an image tarnished by drivers who are rude, refuse hires, overcharge and cherry-pick passengers.

Twenty-one cabbies took part in the first class, with the HK$500 fee subsidised by the Association of Taxi Industry Development, formed by taxi firm owners and covering 5,000 cabs.

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Despite rarely bumping into problem customers and being a good-tempered driver, Ng hoped to raise his service skills and encourage others to follow suit through taking the course.

“I hope to send a positive message to encourage other taxi drivers to enhance their service standards through professional training. I find this course really useful,” he said.

One key point hammered home by course trainer Joseph Chow King-chung was the importance of good manners.

When cabbies give them basic greetings they feel warm and secure
Joseph Chow King-chung, course trainer

“During my research with many parties, actually customers enjoy having a cordial communication with taxi drivers. When cabbies give them basic greetings they feel warm and secure. And they will even give more tips and become a regular customer of that driver,” he said, noting that some cabbies appeared very blunt to passengers.

Chow also highlighted the importance of drivers fostering emotional intelligence and controlling their tempers when dealing with difficult customers, especially drunks.

“I asked taxi drivers to try to understand the needs of customers and also be practical. Would you want to keep arguing with a difficult customer for a long time or you would rather let it go and save time to make more trips?”

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

Chow said there was no right or wrong between the two parties but if cabbies adopted positive thinking they could change things for the better.

Ng agreed, saying the course had reminded him of the need to greet customers and avoid getting emotional. “As a professional driver sometimes I also forgot the basics. Greeting customers surely makes a good impression on them.”

Council project manager Polly Lau Suet-lin, one of the course assessors, said the performance of the first class was satisfactory and she hoped that the course in future could be advanced, with more diverse training, such as dealing with conflicts with traffic police, and basic greetings in languages like Japanese and Korean.

Association chairman Chan Man-keung called on the government to subsidise the course so as to attract new blood as the industry was facing an ageing workforce.