HONGKONG'S disabled taxi drivers were allegedly discriminated against by insurance companies, according to Ms Karen Mak, chairmam of the Disabled Drivers' Club. Ms Mak put forward the case for the disabled at the Legco panel on finance, taxation and monetary affairs meeting on May 10. She claimed that disabled taxi drivers had to pay a higher loading payment and accident excess because of their handicap. Unlike policy agreements for other taxi drivers, it insures the policy holder only, and not other people driving the taxi with the driver's permission. Mr Fan To-sang owns and drives a taxi that is modified to make it easier for him to drive with his artificial leg. He shares his taxi with his partner, Mr Ng Kwok-sun. Mr Fan first insured the vehicle through his taxi firm and was given the usual taxi policy with Anglo Starlite Insurance Co. This policy carried an accident excess charge of $1,000 and coverage for additional drivers to use the taxi with Mr Fan's permission. The insurance company was unaware that Mr Fan was a disabled driver. When he came to renew the policy the following year, Anglo Starlite refused to continue the policy with the original terms. The new policy raised the excess charge to $5,000, put a 25 per cent loading on the policy, and restricted coverage to just the driver. Mr Fan said he was convinced that Anglo Starlite refused to renew his insurance in its original form because they saw that he was disabled when he applied for the policy in person. He said he was forced to cancel the policy and seek cover elsewhere because the new terms offered by Anglo Starlite were so high. Without insurance for additional drivers, the taxi would have to remain idle at the end of his shift, when it could have been used to earn money with a different driver, he said. Eventually, he found coverage with a company that did not normally handle motor insurance, but he still had to pay a higher loading. Ms Mak said that Mr Fan's situation was typical of many disabled taxi drivers in the territory, and the attitude of Anglo Starlite was not unusual. Mr Fan said at least 100 disabled drivers in Hongkong were in possession of a taxi licence, but only 20 were able to go about their trade because of difficulty over higher insurance charges. He said he felt that his handicap did not interfere with his driving and added that disabled taxi drivers had to pass a driving test, as well as the usual written examination for able-bodied drivers. Mr Joseph Yeung, underwriting manager for Anglo Starlite, said that his company did not discriminate against any particular driver. He said his company based its policy, not on the driver in this case, but the vehicle. Most insurance companies charged more money for insuring modified vehicles, which carried a higher risk, he said. ''We haven't been discriminating against disabled drivers; we are just assessing the risk for the conversion,'' he said. Mr Yeung accepted that disabled drivers in general did not have a bad record for insurance claims, but insisted that any vehicle modified from the makers' specification had to carry a higher insurance cost. Ms Mak said: ''The modifications are examined by the motor vehicle examination centre before we can drive, so the changes don't affect safety.'' ''We don't think it should be an excuse to make us pay more.''