Taxi drivers put on notice as Hong Kong government brings in stiffer penalties to combat city’s notoriously bad service
Government acts to combat city’s notoriously bad service with list of offences that could get taxi drivers in trouble including, taking a longer route than necessary, overcharging or refusing a fare
Taxi drivers in Hong Kong who repeatedly overcharge or refuse fares will get bigger fines and more time in jail, as the government cracks down on the industry’s notoriously bad service.
Besides heavier penalties, the Transport and Housing Bureau confirmed on Wednesday it would roll out a demerit point system for cabbies but only for 11, instead of 18 offences as previously proposed. Drivers who accumulate 15 or more points within two years could lose their licence for three to six months.
The move came after years of complaints of shoddy service by drivers of the city’s 18,163 taxis, despite the threat of penalties stipulated by the city’s laws.
Complaints about cabs accounted for close to half of all gripes received by the Transport Complaints Unit from 2013 to last year, while in the same time period, the police launched about 1,200 prosecutions each year relating to taxi offences.
“In view of the concern of the community on taxi service quality in recent years, and rising complaints on taxi drivers’ malpractices, the government has reviewed the current penalties … with a view to strengthening the deterrent effect and enhancing taxi service quality,” the bureau said.
In a paper submitted to lawmakers, it said the current maximum fine of HK$10,000 and six-month jail term for first-timers who committed six types of offences deemed serious would stay.
However, repeat offenders now face a maximum fine of HK$25,000 and one year in jail for overcharging, refusing to accept a hire, not using the most direct route, soliciting and altering or defacing taxi meters.
To further deter malpractice, drivers who commit 11 offences, including the six serious ones, would accumulate five or 10 demerit points each time. Once they hit 15 points in a two-year period, they would stand to lose their licence for three months, with this increasing to six months for repeat offenders.
While the Association of Taxi Industry Development said it supported stiffer penalties for unscrupulous cabbies, chairman Chan Man-keung called for CCTV to be installed in all taxis to collect evidence.
“The points system also covers some minor offences which usually arise from a dispute with passengers. To be fair for other law-abiding taxi drivers, the government should require a CCTV system be installed in every taxi to facilitate gathering of evidence,” he said.
But the government said in its paper it would leave it to taxi firms to do this voluntarily.
Taxi rides are cheaper in Hong Kong than in some major cities, but bad service has driven passengers to alternatives such as Uber’s ride-hailing service, which the trade has vehemently opposed.
The bureau also said it would consider requiring cabbies who accumulated 10 demerit points in two years to attend an improvement course, giving them an opportunity to shave three points off their record.
It would also propose repealing “obsolete offences” in current legislation, such as requiring cabbies to wear a badge when on duty, and driving in such manner as to cause minimum obstruction and congestion when travelling to any place of public amusement or assembly.
Taxi users the Post spoke to said the stiffer penalties could help improve service, but it was unclear by how much.
Business consultant Davis Lee Chin-long, who takes taxis twice a week, said he had encountered drivers who refused to take him when he wanted to travel between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, saying they could not do so.
“Is this an offence? The guidelines for passengers also need to be clear,” the 46-year-old said.
He also asked how long it would take for drivers to face disciplinary actions after a complaint.
Rex Mackay, 34, who works in an IT firm said he had come across unpleasant drivers.
“Some drivers treat non-Chinese speakers differently, assuming we don’t know much about Hong Kong as a place, and trying to trick us with a longer ride than necessary.”
The demerit points system could improve the situation, but it remained to be seen how strictly it would be enforced, he said.