Hong Kong taxi drivers' fare extortion during typhoon signal No8 a disgrace

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 July, 2015, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 July, 2015, 4:54pm

I am sure that I am not alone in deploring the behaviour of Hong Kong taxi drivers during typhoon signal No8 conditions.

On the evening of July 9 after the signal had been issued, I witnessed scenes at the Airport Express taxi rank at Kowloon station that were an absolute embarrassment for our city.

Arriving visitors from overseas were bewildered and angry over both the refusal of drivers to take them to a particular destination, or the haggling and subsequent extortion of sums at least triple the usual metered fare.

Drivers were walking up and down the queue, demanding to know where people were going and specifying outrageous sums with unwitting tourists. This was intimidating and aggressive behaviour that disgraces Hong Kong. Would we expect this on arrival in New York or London? Of course not.

When challenged, the drivers universally claimed that their insurance coverage lapses during typhoons, necessitating huge increases in fares to cover their risk. So, they turn their meters off and extort money from passengers.

If that far-fetched claim were true, then why would they be allowed on the road at all? Insurance policies for vehicles, including commercial ones, do not contain clauses nullifying coverage during bad weather.

The drivers are lying and are committing an offence when charging passengers more than the metered fare, the rates of which are set by the government.

Attending police officers in this instance did not make any arrest and, while sympathetic to the passengers' plight, expressed the opinion that the drivers' behaviour was pretty much normal during a typhoon.

There is a clear need to take action on this practice, which is endemic across Hong Kong.

The government needs to enforce the rules, make sure the police know the relevant law and penalise drivers who engage in this illegal extortion.

The simplest way may be to introduce a signal 8 surcharge, through the taxi meter, I am sure most people would not mind paying a small surcharge on the standard fare to encourage the drivers to keep working through the bad weather.

Whatever the solution, Hong Kong needs to fix this in the interest of preserving the city's reputation. No one - tourists especially - should have to put up with being bullied by taxi drivers breaking the law.

Paul Collins, Mong Kok