‘Guide dogs welcome’ in 80 Hong Kong taxis, operator announces
SynCab says move comes as many visually impaired residents are turned away by drivers who are unwilling to take their dogs
A taxi operator has taken the first step in welcoming guide dogs on board amid complaints that visually impaired customers and their canine companions are being turned away by drivers and businesses in Hong Kong.
SynCab, which operates a team of 120 cabs and 400 drivers, claimed it was the “first guide dog friendly taxi group” in the city.
According to the group, 80 of its “multi-purpose taxis”, which have more spacious interiors than conventional taxis, will happily take on the 80 guide dogs in the city that are currently serving citizens with impaired vision.
The dog-friendly vehicles will come with a sticker that reads “guide dogs welcome”, the group said.
SynCab’s director, Sonia Cheng Man-yee, told the Post that the policy could set an example for other taxi groups and help ease misunderstanding about guide dogs.
While all Hong Kong taxi drivers are required to take these passengers under the Road Traffic Ordinance, many turn customers with guide dogs away.
“We know that the visionally impaired often meet drivers who are worried [about taking guide dogs on-board],” Cheng said. “We think there is a need to provide reliable services to all members of the public, including the visually impaired, and at the same time improve drivers’ and citizens’ understanding of guide dogs.”
Some drivers, for example, may think that the guide dogs will defecate inside their vehicles, she said.
While the policy applies to 80 taxis, Cheng said it will gradually cover all vehicles operated by SynCab.
She also said drivers will be taught some basic knowledge about guide dogs and will be trained to help passengers with impaired vision.
Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Service chairman Raymond Cheung welcomed the policy.
“After all, taxis are able to serve the physically disabled as a personal transportation,” Cheung said.
He said guide dogs are trained by professionals and people should have faith in the dogs and their owners.
Meicy Choi, a “foster parent” for guide dogs, said taxi drivers often refuse to pick up passengers with an animal companion.
“Some may claim that they have [an] allergy, or that they are afraid of dogs,” Choi said.
She said the trained guide dogs will not hurt drivers, or make a mess in the back seat.
If more taxi groups were to be guide dog friendly, Choi said owners and their animals would no longer be “ghosts” on the street, who some drivers now deliberately overlook.
Ng Kwan-shing, who chairs the Taxi Dealers and Owners Association, also welcomed the new policy.
Most drivers in Hong Kong are willing to let guide dogs board their vehicles, but Ng said some are concerned with cleanliness and safety.
As guide dogs are generally large, Ng said drivers who are unfamiliar with them could fear for their own safety.
“We need more education for the public,” he said.
If a taxi driver refuses to take the visually impaired and their guide dogs, Ng said it equates to a refusal for hire, which is a violation of the Road Traffic Ordinance.
Ng also said the visually impaired can inform drivers about guide dogs when booking a ride to ensure there is no misunderstanding.