THE Consumer Council yesterday called for an overhaul of the Hongkong taxi licensing system to improve service and end speculation. There was an urgent need to curb the speculation caused by offering a limited number of licences, which could be snapped up by a few syndicates and sold for massive profits, said Mr Justein Wong Chun, chairman of the council's trade practices committee. These syndicates care little for the quality of service offered, simply viewing taxi operations as a way of making money, he said. The chairman of the Transport Advisory Committee's taxi working party, Professor Tenny Lam Chung-yu, said changes were necessary but there was much work ahead before concrete proposals could be made. Mr Wong said: ''Licences fall into a few hands rather than the people who are actually driving the taxis on the street. ''Licences cost about $1.8 million each and the syndicates make quick profits of up to $200,000. ''This policy should be demolished to end the speculation.'' Instead, the Consumer Council has proposed that licences be issued at any time, dependent upon the economy, demand and traffic conditions. It believed the quality of service would be improved if licences were issued to the individuals who drove the taxis, but it recommended that the TAC carefully considered what restrictions this could place on operators. Mr Wong said the annual number of complaints recorded by the TAC was rising rapidly and changes were necessary. The council wanted swift and strong action to be taken against drivers who overcharged or who provided poor service. Complaint procedures should be simplified and improved relations between drivers and passengers should be encouraged. But the council, in its response to a TAC consultation exercise, opposed any increase in the flagfall or waiting time charge. Taxis must not be classified as a luxury form of transport, Mr Wong said. Professor Lam said the working party had received more than 500 responses during its consultation exercise and they were now being analysed. ''There needs to be changes - that is why the TAC is reviewing all the policies. ''But it is not easy to make changes. There are always consequences and we have to make sure the changes are for the better. There is still a lot of work to do,'' he said.