COMPLAINTS against taxi drivers have soared since they have been obliged to display identity cards on their dashboards. The Transport Department introduced the measure last month to encourage better behaviour by drivers. But the Transport Complaints Unit last month received 419 complaints against them, the highest number this year and a 40.6 per cent increase on the 298 cases in June. The unit received 2,170 complaints in the first seven months of this year, compared with a record of 3,242 for all of last year. Of the complaints registered last month, 85 concerned drivers who refused to take hires, 106 for overcharging, 99 for driver's misconduct and 80 for not taking direct routes. There were also 23 complaints about drivers failing to reach the customer's destination, 10 of alleged soliciting of passengers, nine about improper display of identity plates and seven cases of failing to have an ID plate. The law states that all taxi drivers should include in the display their names in Chinese and English and a recent photo and mount it on the dashboard. Those failing to comply face a $2,000 fine. Transport Advisory Committee member Leung Kong-yui admitted the taxi service had not got better. ''From the figures shown, it is very hard to say taxi services have been improved,'' he said. He warned that the number of complaints would be taken into consideration when fare rises were discussed. Urban taxi associations recently applied for a 7.6 per cent increase on fares, wanting the $11.50 minimum for the first two kilometres to be increased to $13.50. They claimed it would put an end to the illegal practice of refusing hires. They have asked that the charge for calling a taxi to the door be raised from $5 to $8 and the waiting time surcharge be boosted from $1 per minute to $1 for every 45 seconds. But Mr Leung said rejecting fare rises was not the best way as there were thousands of drivers in Hong Kong with only few guilty of misconduct. ''But we have to strike a balance - if we reject the fare rise just because of the complaints and force drivers into hardship, then complaints would only increase,'' he said. Mr Leung also claimed it was too early to say the new scheme was a failure. ''The plan has only been going for one month,'' he said. ''Many drivers have yet to learn it will be easier to complain about them because of the identity plate. I expect the numbers of complaints to fall later. ''There is also a seasonal element behind this. Complaints against taxi drivers are usually higher during the summer time.'' The vice-chairman of the Kowloon Taxi Owners' Association, Yam Tai-ping, denied the group's services had worsened. ''All these complaints were caused by a small group of bad drivers,'' he said. ''The police know who they are. They should charge them more often. It is not fair to say taxi services are getting worse.'' Mr Yam said identity plates could not stop the rise in complaints: ''If they dared to break the law, then they would not be scared by complaints and they would ignore the identity plate.'' But legislator Zachary Wong Wai-yin said the increase might be a healthy sign. ''It shows people are more willing to complain to the unit as they can recognise the misbehaving driver more easily by reading his name on the identity plate,'' he said.