Red, green, blue ... Hong Kong’s taxis have not always been so regimented; the colours we have today were designed to solve problems that included a proliferation of pak pais (illegal taxis), trouble identifying cabs from other cars and their concentration in urban areas.
Early taxis were “green, yellow, black and red” and the tough time passengers had of finding legitimate rides led the Transport Department to suggest cabs “be painted with one common colour so they can be readily distinguished from other cars”, the South China Morning Post reported on December 11, 1969.
Today’s urban colour scheme was unveiled with the Post headline “New look for taxis”, on September 14, 1974. “Silver for the upper half and red for the lower half”; the department hoped to “eliminate pak pais from masquerading as taxis”.
Further proposals included distinct colours for Hong Kong and Kowloon taxis. Two years after the Cross-Harbour Tunnel opened, an October 11, 1974 article raised the issue of drivers “unfamiliar with the roads in Kowloon ... returning to the island without passengers”, but these proposals were ignored.
Although they could operate in the New Territories, taxis tended to congregate in Kowloon, where demand was higher, and drivers of unlicensed vehicles were meeting the need in rural areas. “Taxi service for NT may be considered ... as a clear answer to the pak pai problem there” the Post reported on April 17, 1975. Aware these taxis would be tempted to operate in urban areas, legislators decided a boundary would be set, even though they imagined the “awkward situation” where a passenger “has to get off at the boundary line and find another taxi”.
When the “New Territories only” taxi service was announced, on June 5, 1976, it was decreed that “ordinary taxis will be allowed to continue to operate in the New Territories” while the new green taxis would not be allowed into urban areas.
The first 20 blue taxis, serving Lantau Island, hit the road in 1983.
And so things remained for three decades or so – until the age of Uber.