Hong Kong's taxi drivers want to cut fares to ease a slump in business due to the Sars outbreak, even though taxi fares here are already among the cheapest among any major city. In a Sunday Morning Post survey of eight cities around the world, only Singapore - at S$8.43 (about HK$39) - comes out cheaper than Hong Kong for a 3km taxi trip, which costs HK$17.57 here. In London, the same trip costs the equivalent of HK$64.50, while a taxi passenger in Tokyo pays the equivalent of HK$107.12. Reactions from those in the trade have been mixed since the Taxi Associations Federation put forward its proposal to slash fares two weeks ago. The government is reluctant to agree to the suggestion and to another proposal to ease the drivers' financial woes by relaxing restricted zones so they can have more chance of picking up passengers. However, the federation insisted the law should be 'bent' to allow them to reduce fares for at least three months. 'We are facing a major crisis,' said Ng Kwok-hung, spokesman for the federation. 'Our daily income has tumbled 40 to 50 per cent in dollar and cents terms. We lose $200 to $300 per shift.' Mr Ng said the government was assisting other sectors but was letting the taxi drivers down. A spokesman for the Transport Department said it was doing a survey to determine whether it was necessary to lower taxi fares. Mr Ng condemned the government for dragging its feet. 'A lot of us will be out of business by the time the survey is completed. What good will it do? In time of crisis, drastic and quick action is needed. We adults can tighten our belts but our children have to eat.' He said that to survive, many drivers had reduced fares even though it was against the law. Mr Ng argued that they were not asking for more but for less, and he could not see why the government was against the move. 'Laws are drafted by human beings so the government should have the flexibility to amend them,' Mr Ng said. The federation was open to any measures that might ease their burden during this difficult time. Mr Ng said that since schooling resumed recently, business had picked up slightly. However, there were a lot of empty taxis during non-rush hours, especially at night. Night taxi driver Leung Chi-sing said the federation's proposal to cut fares would not relieve drivers' financial burden. He doubted whether cutting fares would attract more passengers. 'If the federation can assure us that by cutting fares we will earn at least an extra $100 for a shift, we surely welcome the proposal. But we doubt that would be the case, because the problem lies in lack of customers.' He said both the government and taxi owners should join hands to rescue them if they really wanted to help. Mr Leung urged the government to subsidise oil prices, in line with a move by the Macau government, which was subsidising drivers to the tune of $1,000 a month. Taxi owners should reduce driver hiring fees, which are $280 for a morning shift and $270 for a night shift. There are 118,138 taxis in Hong Kong. The cost of a taxi licence has tumbled to $2.2 million, compared with $2.57 million before the outbreak of Sars in March and $3.5 million in 1997.