A plan that allows urban taxis to charge more on short-haul trips and less on long journeys may be postponed as lawmakers ponder whether it might do the trade more harm than good in a time of economic turmoil. The plan - which allowed a fare rise of up to HK$5.50 on short distances and a 20 per cent discount on trips that now cost HK$300 - was approved by the Executive Council last month. It was due to take effect by the end of next month if no lawmakers raised any issues. But the former chairman of the Legislative Council transport panel, Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, said yesterday he would ask for a subcommittee to review the plan when related subsidiary legislation was submitted later this month for negative vetting. Under that process, the plan will go ahead unless legislators object to it within 28 days. 'I don't think it's very helpful for the industry's business to raise the flag-fall price from HK$16 to HK$18 in such an economic situation,' the Democratic Party lawmaker said. 'The increase is too steep. Besides, we also need to discuss whether concessions proposed on long-haul trips are big enough to compete with the discount gangs.' His ally Lee Wing-tat agreed. 'Last Wednesday I went to a usually crowded restaurant for dinner and the place was only a quarter full,' Mr Lee said. 'The manager said it had been like that for the last two weeks. 'The economy is slowing down. Many drivers may still remember the image of long taxi queues at the stand during the Sars period, so we need to be careful.' The possible new chairman of the transport panel, Cheung Hok-ming, said earlier that the increase on short-distance trips was too high. But the industry still believes the plan should go ahead even though many operators share the lawmakers' concerns. Taxi Drivers and Owners Association president Ng Kwan-sing, who has observed slack business in the past two weeks, said the industry had only itself to blame that the new fares were to be implemented at such a bad time. 'The industry was divided and different camps had their own interests to defend,' he said. 'The prolonged argument denied us the chance of a fare rise when LPG prices were at their peak; now we get what we want but the environment is no longer the same.' Taxis were the last of public transport - including buses, minibuses and ferries - to get permission for a fare rise. But neither Mr Ng nor Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee chairman Kwok Chi-piu are willing to reduce the flag-fall increment. 'We have waited for too long to come to this point, we will not give it up easily, we will think of something [if business plummets after fare rises].' Illegal discount taxi gangs, who said earlier that they might no longer offer discounts on long-distance journeys, said they might change their minds depending on market conditions.