TAXI driver Jason Ho would think nothing of striking customers who refused to pay the fare. Two fines and even a jail sentence failed to deter him. But then the authorities came up with a solution. Force him to work for 160 hours without pay. He still gives passengers a tongue-lashing, but his hands stay firmly on the wheel. The Community Service Orders Scheme, implemented in 1987 as a pilot project, has proved so successful that it has now been extended to all 10 magistracies in Hongkong. Any person aged 14 or over convicted of an offence punishable with detention or imprisonment, can be sentenced to do community work. It is up to the court to decide after considering the probation officer's report. The offender, officially ''community service worker'' - must perform unpaid labour over a one-year period. The hours vary from as little as 25 to a maximum of 240. ''The order aims at being both punitive and rehabilitative,'' said probation officer Ms Tse Kit-ling of the Social Welfare Department's Community Service Orders Office. The offender must work during his leisure time, normally over the weekends, holidays or evenings in sessions of four to eight hours. There is no disruption to his employment, schooling or religious activities. The work, provided by Government departments or social organisations, may be carried out in country parks, hospitals, homes for children, the disabled or elderly. The offender's performance in these community projects is under the scrutiny of part-time supervisors employed by the Social Welfare Department, and if it is unsatisfactory, he may be brought back to court for re-sentencing. Ms Tse's community service workers have been convicted of deception, personal injury and burglary. They usually begin by doing simple manual work such as cutting grass or painting hospital beds. Later, they may be asked to organise birthday parties for the elderly, or escort them to shopping malls or to see their doctors. AFTER a while, Ms Tse said she can usually see improvement in the offenders' behaviour. They become more punctual, and some experience improvement in relationships with their family and manage to hold down steady jobs. ''It is through doing social work they learn where their responsibility lies,'' Ms Tse said. One offender was an insurance agent who took money under false pretences. As he taught sign language to the mentally handicapped in his placement centre, he realised there was more to life than piling up a fortune. In the case of Ho, a 43-year-old night-shift taxi driver, his biggest problem was controlling his temper. There were occasions when drunken late-night passengers left his taxi without paying, and Ho would get into a fight with them. He had been fined $500 twice and imprisoned for one month. ''Fining me a few hundred dollars is not really effective, and as for spending one month in prison, time passed quickly. All I did was eat, sleep and watch television.'' Ho came out of prison and a little more than a year later, he lost his temper again. One night, a drunk passenger left his taxi without paying. Ho chased after him, and though this time he did not use his fists, pushed him around. Convicted of common assault, he began his community service order in July last year. Every Monday, he had to work eight hours at a care and attention home for the physically handicapped. His initial task was scouring rusty wheelchairs, and he later had more contact with the handicapped people in the home. Ho had never done volunteer work before, nor did he have any intention to, saying he felt uneasy about it. ''I was a bit scared, seeing some of them have grotesque heads. I did not dare to touch them for fear of being infected.'' He grew accustomed to being in their presence and started talking to them. ''I was moved by their plight. I could feel they really need somebody to talk to.'' Ho took them out in their wheelchairs to supermarkets and other places, and would sometimes treat them to afternoon tea. He even took some to Ocean Park. Meanwhile the residents of the home were not informed that Ho was an offender. They treated him as a volunteer. ''We don't want others to be prejudiced against the offenders in any way. Success depends on the response to their work. If the response is encouraging, their behaviour might change, if there is no appreciation, there would be no motivation for them to change,'' Ms Tse said. Ho's site supervisor, Cheng Hon-shing, was a good model for him to learn how to control his temper. ''He is very kind, tolerant, and even when he was often blamed by other offenders unjustly, he still kept calm,'' Ho said. Mr Cheng, on the other hand, grew to know Ho's character well. He was able to understand that Ho's violent reaction to his passengers for not paying was partly due to his anxiety about money. Ho has to support his wife, three children, parents and parents-in-law. The taxi driver has just completed his community service order which he believes is a good punishment. ''I had to go every week, for half a year, even when I was sick.'' But while serving his sentence, Ho learned how to care for the less fortunate in society, and has asked Ms Tse to allow him to do more volunteer work in the future. As for hitting his passengers, he said he would not do it again. ''Even if they don't pay, I'll let them off. The money is not worth all the trouble afterwards.''