Food trucks, Uber, health scares and gym scams – rough year for Hong Kong consumers

A look back at the gamut of service and product issues faced by customers and the debates they sparked

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 December, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 December, 2017, 3:32pm

It was a turbulent year for Hong Kong consumers, who had to keep up with a barrage of news ranging from technology issues and food businesses to health scares and gym scams.

At the forefront was the ruckus over food trucks and ride-hailing service Uber. While engaged in separate battles for relevance in the city, both operations share similarities – they offer consumers an alternative choice in an established trade, aiming to challenge dominant players in the market.

The idea of replicating the success of New York’s thriving food truck trade in Hong Kong was floated by then financial chief John Tsang Chun-wah, before it finally launched in February.

But restrictive regulations, such as the requirement to operate in certain spots at certain times, have forced three vendors from the initial 16 to abandon the scheme.

More bad news followed, with the scheme’s future uncertain as commerce and economic development chief Edward Yau Tang-wah admitted only five of the food truck businesses brought in HK$1 million in their first eight months. After covering upfront investment and operating costs, the profits could be marginal, if any.

Uber, meanwhile, has been engaged in a bitter fight with taxi drivers, who claim their business has been infringed upon.

The government has long refused to legalise the car-hailing service, saying it must play by the book, while police have arrested Uber drivers.

But in a rare move, the Consumer Council rebuked authorities, saying the city should embrace technology which provided convenience to consumers, rather than restricting it.

For a start, the council urged officials to relax requirements in the current private hire-car permit system to make it easier for such services to be on the road legally.

Apart from technology, the consumer watchdog also pointed to food health-conscious diners should avoid after alarming levels of salt and fat were discovered in 10 popular Hong Kong-style dishes.

Those who wish to get fit also had to beware of scams – the council reported a 189 per cent rise in the number of complaints against health clubs in 2016, with one woman asked to pay HK$4.3 million for a gym membership, which included 3,381 hours of personal training.

Health scares for consumers continued, with 38 out of 60 shampoos on the market found to contain a harmful manufacturing solvent in tests.

The substance, 1,4-dioxane, is commonly used as a solvent in manufacturing cosmetics, detergents and shampoos and long-term contact with the skin may affect the liver and kidneys.

As if this was not enough, the council also found that erasers could disrupt hormonal development in children, and soy sauces could lead to cancer.