Hong Kong taxi drivers stage protest over illegal ride-hailing services in wake of fatal Uber crash

About 30 drivers and taxi owners rallied outside the government headquarters on Sunday to demand swift action from transport officials

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2018, 7:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2018, 5:30pm

Taxi industry representatives in Hong Kong renewed their calls on Sunday to crack down on illegal ride-hailing services, days after a private car used for Uber was involved in a fatal accident.

The accident, which left one dead and four others injured, was the first in the city to involve an operating Uber vehicle, and has sparked a debate if – and to what extent – the company would compensate those affected.

About 30 taxi drivers and owners staged a protest on Sunday by parking a dozen cabs outside the government headquarters in Tamar to demand swift action from transport officials.

Ho Chi-keung, who leads the taxi division of the Motor Transport Workers General Union, the local industry’s largest trade body, claimed the government had been reluctant to properly address the issue.

“Not only has police enforcement been lax, but the Transport and Housing Bureau has also failed to clarify its position,” he said.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan did not answer repeated media queries during a public appearance on Sunday.

Taxi drivers in Hong Kong have long been at odds with ride-hailing services such as Uber, claiming their business had been hit hard in recent years.

Unlike conventional taxis, which are regulated, most vehicles on the Uber platform did not possess a hire car permit, which is mandatory under the law for anyone driving passengers for a fare.

Police have carried out undercover operations in the past. Five drivers were convicted in March last year and slapped with a HK$10,000 fine each, while another 23 were under trial.

But the service’s questionable legal status did little to stifle its growing popularity, partly due to passengers – both locals and tourists – becoming fed up with shady practices by cabbies such as overcharging, refusing fares or even criminal intimidation.

The US-based firm took a big step forward last year by announcing a partnership with insurer AIG to provide third-party coverage of up to HK$100 million for all trips made with them.

But the terms of the policy were never disclosed.

A spokeswoman for Uber Hong Kong suggested on Sunday that trips remain covered by insurance.

“It’s important to note that all Uber rides in Hong Kong are covered by third-party insurance, which fully complies with the requirements of the Hong Kong Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third Party Risks) Ordinance (Cap. 272),” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

She did not elaborate on the coverage terms.

A 50-year-old Uber driver died after his BMW sedan collided head-on with a taxi in Kowloon City on Thursday.

The taxi driver, as well as one passenger on each vehicle, were injured, along with a motorcyclist who rear-ended a sports utility vehicle travelling behind the cab.

Insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-po had indicated earlier that third-party insurance in Hong Kong should cover the injured parties, although he urged Uber to fully reveal its insurance policy terms.