I REFER to Mr A. L. Nanik's letter about taxi services which appeared in the South China Morning Post on October 15.
I wish to explain the Government's taxi policy and what has been done in the last few months to improve taxi services.
In March 1994 the Transport Advisory Committee (TAC) completed a comprehensive taxi policy review and put forward a number of proposals to improve taxi services and tackle the perceived problem of speculation in taxi licences.
The TAC observed that there were no fundamental problems with the present taxi licensing system, although the high premium said for taxi licences was a matter of concern. Taxi licences have been issued through public tender since 1964.
Under the existing legislation, taxi licences are freely transferable. Holders have a perpetual operating right. These factors, coupled with the limited issue of new taxi licences, have led to a sharp rise in licence premiums in recent years.
Moreover, the review shows that the sharp increase in the number of taxi malpractices has been due to a combination of factors - relatively low taxi fares hence creating a higher demand for taxi services which cannot be fully met by supply, no increase in the supply of taxis in recent years to meet increasing passenger demand, and ineffective law enforcement.
The main recommendations in the report include - (a) taxi licences should be issued as and when necessary; (b) in any future public tender exercise for taxi licences, an applicant should be permitted to bid for only one licence; (c) there should be a 12-month restriction on the transferability of new licences; (d) both the buyer and seller of a taxi licence must register the transaction in person; and (e) the maximum penalties for taxi offences should be doubled to maintain an adequate deterrent effect. All these recommendations, together with other measures to improve taxi services, were accepted by the Executive Council on April 26 of this year.
We have now amended the Road Traffic Ordinance and the Road Traffic (Registration and Licensing of Vehicles) Regulations to enable the Commissioner for Transport to impose a 12-month restriction on the transferability of new taxi licences and to stipulate a requirement that both the transferor and transferee of a taxi licence must register the transaction in person. These measures are intended to dampen speculation in the taxi licence market.
In the recent tendering exercise for 300 urban and 100 New Territories taxi licences, two new conditions have been included - (a) no one may bid for more than one urban or New Territories taxi licence; and (b) the new taxi licences will not be transferable within 12 months from the date of first registration of the taxis concerned.
We intend to revise as soon as possible the maximum penalty for certain offences such as 'refusing hire' and 'overcharging', from the present $5,000 to $10,000 and to bring the most prevalent taxi offences such as 'refusing hire' and 'soliciting passengers' under the fixed penalty system. We will also introduce at a later date legislation to require taxi drivers to issue fare receipts on demand so as to facilitate reporting of overcharging offences.
In response to public complaints, the police have stepped up enforcement action against taxi malpractices. In the first nine months of 1994, the police mounted 342 special operations which have resulted in 1,718 summons and arrests. Of these, a total of 713 prosecutions were instigated against taxi drivers refusing hire or soliciting passengers.
Isaac Y.N. Chow, for Secretary for Transport Transport Department