Hong Kong taxi industry must take road to change
Penalty points system for cheating cabbies would be a step in right direction but passengers are really in need of more competition and choice
Taxi services in Hong Kong leave so much to be desired that any steps to improve standards are always welcomed by the community. The penalty points system proposed by the government last week may not necessarily get all bad drivers off the road, but it is a move in the right direction to long overdue reform. Under the proposal, cabbies would receive demerit points for offences such as overcharging, refusing hires and generally cheating passengers.
Their licences would be suspended for three months upon reaching 15 points in two years. Again, the proposals have received a positive response from the community. Elsewhere, similar penalty systems appear to have been well received.
For an industry that has been so resistant to competition and change, the negative reaction from some drivers is hardly surprising. However, critics say the scheme does not go far enough and three months’ suspension is not sufficient deterrent.
That said, some offences are arguably too minor for punishment. For instance, having insufficient change would cost five points under the proposal. Punishing drivers for their appearance and hygiene also appears arbitrary. The industry is entitled to speak out on questionable details, but they are not an excuse to reject the proposals altogether.
The structure of the industry is arguably to blame for some of the problems. With licences having been capped at around 18,000 for years, the limited competition does not encourage an improvement in services.
The fact that most drivers just pay daily rents to licence owners for the use of vehicles also means there is little regard for service standards and quality. This is reflected in the 10,759 taxi-related complaints last year, which represented 47 per cent of the total gripes related to public transport services.
The recent boom in unlicensed limousine services owes much to public dissatisfaction with conventional taxis. It is therefore in the industry’s own interest to embrace change.
More importantly, the government must not lose sight of the need to address the fundamental issues facing the industry. The need to introduce more competition and choice for passengers is obvious.