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Hong Kong taxis

Hong Kong taxi drivers threaten to ‘defend’ their rights if police don’t crack down harder on Uber

Cabbies will park at Central or the airport and just ‘hang around’, alliance threatens, adding there is no way it will coexist with the US ride-hailing giant

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 8:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 11:02pm

Hong Kong’s taxi driver alliance on Tuesday dug in its heels over ride-hailing services, claiming that police had promised to come down harder on Uber and warning that if enforcement was lax, cabbies would act to “defend” their rights.

The Association of Taxi Industry Development also shot down any hopes of cooperating with the US ride-hailing giant, which recently told the Post of its plans to roll out the UberFlash booking service that could also be used by cabbies.

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But drivers and operators who met transport officials and police force representatives on Tuesday restated complaints that Uber had robbed them of business.

Wong Yu-ting, a spokesman for the Association of Taxi Industry Development, which comprises 23 associations, said all sides agreed following the 2 ½ hour session that ride-hailing services offered by Uber were illegal and drivers should be prosecuted.

“Police agreed during the meeting to immediately step up enforcement action,” Wong said. “We’re satisfied with their assurance for now.”

He warned of industrial action if the promise did not materialise.

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“We won’t rule out further action to defend our rights. Apart from parking at Central, we may do the same at the airport and hang around,” he added, without elaborating.

A police spokesman did not confirm Wong’s statement but said: “Police have been keeping in view the use of private cars and light goods vehicles for illegal carriage of passengers for reward and will continue to combat such offences commensurate with other commitments.

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“[We] will gather intelligence, investigate and follow up any referral case received. Where necessary, police will seek legal advice from the Department of Justice and seek prosecution.”

Hong Kong has 18,163 licensed taxis and 40,000 taxi drivers. The sector has vehemently opposed suggestions that the government ease its current 1,400 private car-rental permit scheme so that more ride-hailing vehicles can be on the road legally.

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This is why Uber risks being prosecuted for offences such as driving without a permit and third-party insurance, despite having about 30,000 registered drivers.

Five Uber drivers were convicted last March.

But proponents of the service say the government is protecting vested interests instead of giving consumers more choices, pointing out that ride-hailing is an alternative to the poor service and behaviour shown by many cabbies.

Dozens of taxi drivers last week staged a protest in Wan Chai and Admiralty. They threatened to do more if authorities did not address their concerns.

Uber recently reiterated its commitment to staying in Hong Kong, with chief operating officer Barney Harford promising that the firm would abide by laws in the markets it was in.

But Wong said: “We are developing a ride-hailing platform that will not charge a 25 per cent commission like Uber. There is no need to cooperate with them.”

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Another outcome from Tuesday was the setting up of a task force comprising taxi drivers, police and Transport Department officials to study over the next three months how the ride-hailing issue could be tackled, including through revising laws.

The department said it would “continue to communicate with the taxi industry and actively consider and follow up on its recommendations”.