'Premium taxi services' for Hongkongers to be explored as government rejects fuel levy bid

Announcement comes after drivers protest loss of earnings caused by ride-sharing app Uber

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 July, 2015, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2015, 10:04am

The government is going to study whether or not it's worth introducing "premium taxi services" in Hong Kong.

Larry Kwok Lam-kwong, chairman of the Transport Advisory Committee, made the announcement at a press conference yesterday.

The committee does not have a definition for what a "premium taxi service" is, but the move comes as local taxi drivers have been protesting against the ride-sharing platform Uber, which started offering its luxury private car service last June.

Earlier this month, more than 100 taxis drove to the government headquarters in Admiralty to protest against the app-based services the drivers said were costing them more than HK$200 per day in business.

Kwok did not say if the study would include Uber, but said that nothing had been ruled out.

The Transport Advisory Committee also rejected a bid by taxi drivers to have a fuel levy added to existing fares.

Kwok said adding a fuel surcharge would "cause confusion and give an impression that passengers are subject to a double fare increase". He added it may cause a chain reaction where bus companies might also demand such surcharges.

The rejection followed a similar move by the Legislative Council's transport panel on July 17.

A representative of taxi drivers, To Sun-tong of the Motor Transport Workers General Union, said he was disappointed with the committee's decision. He said they had proposed a fuel surcharge five years ago because of sharp fluctuations in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which some taxis use.

However, not all taxi driver representatives shared To's views. Hong Kong Taxi Owners Association chairman Wong Po-keung said his group had reservations about a fuel surcharge mechanism because LPG prices went up and down and that would confuse passengers.

In April, taxi drivers sought a HK$2 increase in the flag fall for the first two kilometres travelled. Wong argued the increase was necessary because taxi drivers were self-employed, earned less than others in the transport sector and did not enjoy perks like bus drivers. The flag fall was last raised in December 2013 - by HK$2 to HK$22.

Wong said if the government approved their pending application, drivers' income could rise by about 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, Kwok said bus passengers in northern parts of Lantau Island and the airport would soon have access to real-time bus information, as that was part of the terms for renewing franchises for New World First Bus, Citybus and Long Win.