New demerit point system for Hong Kong taxi drivers being considered in crackdown on bad services
Proposals draw mixed reactions from industry and transport sector lawmaker, as city seeks to stem overcharging and refusing to take passengers
Hong Kong’s taxi drivers may finally have to pay the price for notoriously bad services, with the government mulling a new demerit point system for 18 kinds of offences, ranging from overcharging to refusing hires, in addition to tougher penalties.
The proposals drew mixed reactions: the Hong Kong Taxi Council, comprising 17 taxi associations, said it agreed with the points system but asked for a review of the 18 offences, while the Legislative Council’s transport sector lawmaker had concerns as well.
“We won’t support it if the taxi trade opposes the proposals,” the Liberal Party’s Frankie Yick Chi-ming said.
The government proposals are up for discussion by its Committee on Taxi Service Quality. It was set up earlier this year to provide advice on ways to ensure better services by the city’s 18,163 taxis and drivers belonging to some 50 taxi groups.
Under the demerit point system, drivers will have points deducted each time they commit an offence, in addition to facing relevant penalties already stipulated by law. Those who have 15 points deducted over two years will have their licences suspended for three months.
Offences such as overcharging and refusing to take passengers will result in five points being shaved off a driver’s record, while three points will be deducted for “minor” offences such as failing to provide the correct change to someone who pays with a HK$100 note (US$12.70), and loitering and parking at places other than taxi stands.
The Transport and Housing Bureau on Thursday said it wanted to increase the penalties for taxi offences to “enhance” deterrence, but did not specify what the tougher punishment would entail.
It said it would table its proposals at Legco in the first half of next year, after consulting various taxi groups this year.
“When enacting the proposals, the government will be careful in striking a proper balance between sufficient deterrent effects and reasonableness,” a spokeswoman said.
While taxi rides are cheaper in Hong Kong than in some other major cities, there are frequent complaints about poor services and bad driver behaviour such as refusing hires.
This has driven passengers to alternatives such as Uber’s ride-hailing service, but the trade has been vehemently opposed to such competition and enjoys enough support in Legco to protect its interests.
Hong Kong Taxi Owners’ Association executive committee chairman Wong Po-keung said many drivers were concerned about the 18 offences, which he described as “outdated”.
“Some taxi offences are very ambiguous and unfair to cabbies,” he said. “For example, for the offence of loitering, how do you define it? Also, sometimes the taxi stops are located in remote areas which make it difficult for drivers to find passengers and they are forced to park at places other than taxi stops. I’ve already told the government some of this is not fair to us.”
Dr Hung Wing-tat of the Hong Kong Taxi Council said taxis would need to be equipped with CCTVs and GPS “to gather proof” if the points system were to be enforced.
“For some offences such as failure to give change for a HK$100 note, loitering and parking at places other than taxi stands, there haven’t been any prosecutions against drivers in Hong Kong’s history. We think there is a need to review all these offences,” he said.
“The Hong Kong Taxi Council basically agrees with such a points system to effectively deter unscrupulous cabbies. But to be fair to them, we propose that the government install CCTV and GPS systems in every taxi for gathering proof. To address passengers’ privacy concerns, the government can keep a centralised database which can only be accessed by police.”
Hung said his group had also submitted its own proposals with eight recommendations to the government on how to reform the taxi industry. They include nationalising the trade so officials can have a bigger say in revamping it, and allowing taxis that provide premium services to set their own fares.