Penalty points system for dodgy Hong Kong taxi drivers also needs to consider effects on livelihoods, transport chief Frank Chan says
Proposed demerit scheme has to be reasonable while still having deterrent effect, he says
Hong Kong’s transport minister Frank Chan Fan on Wednesday brushed aside calls to strip taxi drivers of their licenses in the first instance of severe misconduct, saying a proposed demerit point system should consider the consequences to cabbies’ livelihoods.
That came as lawmakers grilled Chan over the government’s proposed measures to combat bad taxi service. One focus of the debate at the Legislative Council transport panel meeting was the effectiveness of the planned demerit point system.
Under the scheme, which aims to deter malpractice, drivers who commit offences such as overcharging or refusing to accept a hire will accumulate five or 10 demerit points each time.
Once drivers hit 15 points in a two-year period, they stand to lose their licence for three months. The suspension increases to six months for repeat offenders.
But Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting cast doubt on the system. He argued that drivers who severely overcharged customers would only get 10 demerit points, meaning those who breached the rules would be able to cheat customers a second time.
“[After drivers] cheated customers and pocketed hundreds or thousands of dollars, why should we give them a second chance? These drivers have betrayed the professionalism [of their jobs] and the interest of customers,” Lam said.
In response, Chan said the penalties should have a deterrent effect, but the system should be reasonable at the same time. He added a balance should be struck.
“If [drivers who commit misconduct] for the first time were stripped of their licenses, it would have a serious impact on them and their families. These behaviours, of course, are unacceptable,” he said.
Speaking on a radio show earlier on Wednesday, Lam also urged the government to tighten regulations to crack down on shoddy taxi service. He suggested those who overcharged customers by more than HK$200 (US$25.60) should have their licences suspended immediately.
But Chan Wai-ming, chairman of New Star Taxi Association, questioned Lam’s proposal, saying it would only prompt those who intended to break the rules to pocket HK$190 instead.
Chan added the industry strongly opposed the points system because some areas of the proposal remained unclear. He questioned how not using the most direct practicable route and overcharging customers would be defined.
He said drivers were also worried that customers may abuse the system to lodge complaints against them. They were also concerned an extra law would leave them chained, he added.
But Chan stressed the industry backed the government crackdown on overcharging with stiff penalties, saying the sector also hated such misconduct.