My Take

Local cabbies clutching at straws with plan for on-board cameras

Hong Kong taxis have a bad reputation – and for good reason; introducing CCTV will not curb the demand for premium services

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 1:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 1:06am

A taxi group wants to install security cameras in cabs. The idea is to salvage the bad reputation of the city’s cabbies and ward off a government proposal to introduce premium taxi services.

The plan is not only too little too late, it’s no more than a public relations gimmick. It will start with 10 taxis and expand to 2,000 in a year. Right! The city has 18,000 taxis. How will it improve overall service at such a slow pace?

Most complaints against taxis have to do with overcharging, taking longer-than-necessary routes, and cherry-picking and refusing passengers. But what really gets me is the terrible hygiene conditions inside many taxis and the passive-aggressive silent treatment from drivers, so you never know if they have actually heard you. And then there is the sudden braking, enough to make a sailor seasick, and the terrible driving that sometimes borders on being dangerous.

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Other than not charging according to the meter, It’s hard to see how CCTV would help address any of these problems.

On one trip with my family, I took the front passenger seat. The driver didn’t like our destination, so he turned the volume of the radio up really loud and applied the brakes liberally.

All the while, a bottle of what looked like urine was rolling back and forth under his legs. Suppose there was CCTV. The footage would not show anything untoward even though the cabbie represented for me everything that is wrong with local taxi services.

After the government has essentially forced Uber to leave town, it will have to introduce premium taxi services to meet public demand. The scheme it has come up with is not ideal, but there is time and room for improvement.

Under the proposed scheme, the government will allow the introduction of 600 premium taxis, to be divided equally among three operating franchises. They can charge higher fares but pay a low franchise fee.

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But why only three operators, thereby making sure only well-financed companies can qualify? The city already has a small fleet of premium taxis run by several small companies outside the government plan.

By all means, taxi groups should work to improve service as a matter of life and death for their industry. But it’s just wishful to think they could maintain the status quo.