A FLEXIBLE taxi licensing system was a possible way to curb speculation and manipulation in the trade, legislators said yesterday. Legislator Mrs Miriam Lau Kin-yee called on the Government to remove the quota in tendering for taxi licences. But she said allowing one bidder to apply for one licence might not stop some taxi operators from manipulating the market. They could make use of a puppet company or agent to bid for tender, she warned. A member of the Co-operative Resources Centre (CRC), Mrs Lau said the present taxi charges, which were five times higher than other public transport, were reasonable. She was opposed to raising the flag-fall charges for short-distance passengers. She also called on the Government to give clearer guidelines on baggage surcharges and make all taxi drivers put up notices about the charges. Taxi service quality was also of public concern, with 1,013 more complaints last year than the 1,670 cases in 1991, she said. She opposed implementing another demerit system to penalise taxi drivers guilty of malpractice, however. Most of them had already taken the initiative to improve their services, Mrs Lau said. Her colleague, Mr Gilbert Leung Kam-ho said the Government should listen to both the opinions of passengers and drivers on monitoring taxi services. He said both the taxi associations in Sai Kung and Junk Bay were opposed to any additional demerit system on top of the existing mark-deducting mechanism for drivers. Mr Leung also suggested that the Government allowed for the merging of taxi services in urban areas, the New Territories and Lantau. Given the rapid development in the new towns and the improvements in transport facilities, he said differences between city and rural areas had narrowed. Mr Leung said it was unfair to restrict New Territories taxi drivers from operating in the developed new towns such as Tsuen Wan and Sha Tin. Another CRC member, Mr Moses Cheng Mo-chi, said the premiums on urban taxis over the past nine years had increased by more than 1,000 per cent as a result of speculation. With the date and number of licences confirmed long in advance under current market conditions, he said tendering exercises could be dominated by a limited number of speculators, who in most cases were not taxi drivers. Mr Cheng said the problem could be curbed by repealing the preset quota and issuing licences more flexibly. Legislator Mr Tam Yiu-chung said expensive premiums and inadequate taxi driver welfare had forced some to resort to malpractices. He suggested it would be better if the Government issued taxi licences to drivers by ballot, rather than by tender. United Democrat legislator Mr Lee Wing-tat supported a suggestion, made in a consultation paper on taxi policy review, that bidders could apply for only one licence. He said the eligible bidder should possess a taxi driving licence but should not own a taxi at the time of application. The Secretary for Transport, Mr Michael Leung Man-kin, declined to comment on any proposals before the public consultation on reviewing taxi policy was completed this month. By yesterday, the Transport Advisory Committee had received 113 written submissions and 295 telephone calls from the public.