Hong Kong licence restrictions to ease to inject young blood into ageing workforce of taxi and trucks

To help fill shortage of professional drivers, new recruits will only need to have held a regular licence for one year instead of three

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 8:29am

Restrictions on driving commercial vehicles in Hong Kong will be eased to allow younger people to fill shortages in an ageing workforce, especially the taxi and container truck sectors, the Post has learned.

Drivers would only have to have held a regular private car or light goods vehicle licence for one year, rather than the current three, to be eligible to drive taxis, trucks, buses and minibuses, according to a source familiar with the situation.

However, the minimum age requirement of 21 for a commercial vehicle licence would remain unchanged.

Hong Kong taxi trade hit by driver shortage as young are put off by its bad reputation

Applicants for a taxi driving licence would also need to undergo mandatory training to be devised by the Vocational Training Council, another source said.

The government expected to submit a proposed amendment to the Legislative Council soon and also planned to upgrade training for taxi and minibus drivers, the source said.

A spokeswoman for the Transport and Housing Bureau admitted it was looking at relaxing the three-year rule to address the shortage of professional drivers.

“To ease the shortage of drivers [of commercial vehicles], the government is studying whether to relax the relevant requirement. The government is consulting the transport sector and will also consult Legco in due course,” she said in a reply to a Post inquiry.

The taxi industry had been calling for the government to relax eligibility requirements as the sector had been hit particularly hard by an ageing workforce. Eighty per cent of the city’s cabbies are 50 or above, with an average age of 58.

According to Transport Department figures last year, among 220,440 holders of taxi driving licences, only 1,110, or 0.5 per cent, were aged 21 to 29.

Despite the high number of licence holders, it is estimated that there are about 40,000 active cabbies for the city’s 18,138 taxis.

The government data also showed the average age of green minibus drivers was about 60 and 50 for franchised bus drivers.

Something has to give as population ages

There were over 44,000 licence holders for cross-boundary container trucks, but at the end of 2014 only about 4,500 worked as drivers, with 0.7 per cent aged 21 to 29 and over half between 50 and 59.

Sonia Cheng Man-yee, director of taxi firm SynCab, said the government earlier confirmed its intention to relax the eligibility requirement as the industry had been pushing for it for over five years.

“The taxi trade has regular meetings with the Transport Department officials and recently they said they were going to go ahead with it,” she said.

Cheng said the relaxed requirements would not compromise safety as holding a driving licence for three years did not equate to three years of actual experience.

“On the contrary, shortening this requirement will allow new licence holders to immediately hone their skills as a professional driver,” she argued.