As Hong Kong makes plans for a premium taxi service, the Uber model would be worth following

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 November, 2015, 2:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 November, 2015, 2:02am

The saying, "If you can't beat them, join them", can be useful advice for officials dealing with illegal taxis in Hong Kong. Pressured by the increasingly popular but unlicensed service run by Uber, the government has no choice but to try accommodating the demand. The initial idea is to introduce a franchised premium taxi service.

That officials have opted for an additional option for passengers rather than a shake-up of the staid taxi service is unsurprising. There are some 40,000 drivers and 9,000 owners of more than 18,000 taxi licences, which are each worth more than HK$6 million. Opening up the market will inevitably upset vested interests. But for those in favour of an overhaul, the government's proposal does not go far enough.

What's more disappointing is that taxi operators still refuse to recognise the problems in the industry, saying the existing service is good enough. As a driver's income is not directly related to his performance, he or she has no incentive to improve service quality. This is further compounded by the fact that taxi owners make money by leasing out their vehicles to drivers, which means they have no supervisory responsibility over the drivers. The severity of the problem is reflected in the 10,000 complaints against taxi services last year, representing 40 per cent of the transport-related complaints.

Details of the proposals are scant at this stage. But the Transport Bureau said the premium service would cover the car model used, the size of the fleet, the relationship between the franchisee and drivers, as well as prices. The study will be completed by the third quarter of next year.

Whether the new service is what the market needs remains to be seen. But it is always good to give passengers more options. What makes Uber popular is that passengers can travel in greater comfort, and with more convenience and certainty, by using its transparent and user-friendly mobile-phone application. The proposed premium taxi service should develop along these principles.