Despatchers and passengers will be able to follow 1,000 cabs fitted with GPS About 1,000 taxis equipped with global positioning satellite systems will be on the road this summer, part of a plan between one of the city's biggest taxi associations and a technology company that aims to boost taxis' competitiveness. The Transport Department welcomed the initiative to improve operation and fleet management. But it stressed any new device had to comply with the law. Human rights groups, however, warned against the potential for breaches of privacy. The system will be tested first on urban taxis. It will enable both passengers and the call centre to identify a taxi's exact location on a real-time, online road map. 'Imagine a lone woman returning home late in a call cab. Her boyfriend and family can watch over her journey on the internet,' said Paul Cheng Siu-hung, chief executive of Autotoll, the developer of the service. The automatic tunnel-toll service firm, which has been developing various GPS-based technologies over the past years, is about to sign a deal with the Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association. The device also has a recording feature. If a driver feels threatened, they can activate the recording function and any conversation will be sent to a call centre. A spate of taxi robbery cases earlier this year, including one in which a driver was knifed to death in September, has led to calls for better protective measures. 'The technology certainly enhances not just passengers', but also drivers' safety. If they are robbed, kidnapped or tied up, police can easily locate the cab and carry out a rescue,' Mr Cheng said. But the director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Law Yuk-kai, warned of potential privacy breaches. 'Such data is sensitive and the government should set up a monitoring system to make sure that private data is not leaked. Maybe only the privacy commissioner should be allowed to handle the tapes afterwards.' Brendon Tong Yeuk-fing, chairman of the taxi association, which controls about 5,000 of the 18,000 taxis in the city, said the only issue to resolve was how much to charge drivers for the service. 'We plan to charge the drivers HK$2 to HK$10 in commission on each order, depending on the distance. If we offer you a job from the city to the airport, it isn't too much to ask for a share of HK$10, especially if we provide free transport information.' The two parties expect that 500 to 600 GPS taxis will be ready to go into service next June, and that the number will rise to 1,000 in a few months. Taxi owners will be exempted from paying for the GPS device, which costs HK$3,000, until the end of a six-month trial period. The device will accept passengers' credit-card payments for fares. The association will invest HK$3 million in setting up a control room, where operators can view the whereabouts of the GPS taxi fleet on a digital, real-time road map. When a customer places an order, the operator will send the request to taxis closest to the area. Drivers who accept the order will not be notified of other jobs, which should minimise the chance of passengers being stood up. 'Passengers will be given a pass code to a website where they can access the taxi's data and also the real-time road map that shows the taxi's location. Anyone can access the information with the password,' Mr Tong said.