Premium taxis a good idea, but why leave it to the big boys?
By restricting the scheme to just three large franchisees, government is opening the door to creating a monopoly
You get what you pay for. Compared with the taxi services of most cities in advanced economies, our taxis are cheap. So don’t expect first-class service when you are paying economy. Sure, a London cabbie is a living road map and a gentleman, but how much does a ride with him cost? His tip alone would cover a ride of the same distance in Hong Kong.
Some people are always whining about poor service and rude drivers. I have had my share of cheats and psychos for taxi drivers, but by and large, most just get you from point A to point B without a fuss. And we pay them spare change for tips, which is no tip at all.
Try tipping the equivalent of 50 cents to a New York cabbie. He will spit in your face and throw back the change.
By all means, the city should have an alternative, luxury taxi service. If you want to pay more, you deserve better service. Some taxi companies have already launched newer and bigger service vehicles.
The government is toying with an experimental scheme under which 600 premium taxis will be introduced to the city. It aims to create three operating franchises, each with up to 200 cabs. They will be allowed to charge higher fares but only need to pay a low franchise fee.
But why only three? Who can afford 200 high-end cabs other than big, well-financed companies?
The scheme, if extended, may break up the existing taxi cartels only to create new ones.
In itself, the proposed franchise scheme is not a bad idea. One of its aims is to fight off unlicensed operators like Uber. However, we already have small but successful licensed operators in this premium market.
By restricting the number of the new franchises to three big ones, they will be badly squeezed.
There are currently more than 90 “premium taxis” with larger compartments. Diamond Cab operates seven taxis for wheelchair users. PrimeCab Hong Kong owns more than 10. SynCab, with vehicles that can carry up to eight pieces of luggage or a wheelchair, has a fleet of 74 cabs.
Let in more franchisees under the scheme to ensure competition rather than monopoly. And make sure they are barred from trading their franchise rights like they do with taxi licences now.