Taxis will not require permits for restricted zone drop-offs and pickups by 2021
- Industry unsatisfied with time frame, calling for swifter action and further relaxation of rules
- Issue has been constant source of conflict with customers who may not understand violations
Hong Kong taxi drivers will be allowed to offload and pick up passengers at some restricted zones in the city without needing annual permits but the industry is still unsatisfied with the move, calling for swifter action amid a difficult work environment.
The Transport Department announced on Friday it would progressively relax rules for taxis, adding that drivers would not be expected to renew their annual permits for entering restricted zones – a practice in place since 2003 – once all changes are made in 2021.
By that year, the department said it expected to complete installation of traffic signs in no-stopping zones which would stipulate “except taxi pick-up or drop-off” clauses. The time slots during which cab drivers are allowed to enter such areas will remain the same, subject to location.
Hong Kong Taxi Owners’ Association chairman Wong Po-keung welcomed the move, but said more could be done. “This is good news, but there are many locations popular with passengers that are not yet open to taxi drivers.”
The issue of stopping within restricted zones has been a constant source of conflict between cab drivers and passengers, with customers wanting to get off or flag down taxis at certain convenient spots but unable to do so because drivers were wary of breaking the law.
Wong said taxi drivers should be allowed to stop at more busy spots in the city, such as in areas in Wan Chai and areas near the Sogo department store on Hennessy Road and Sugar Street.
“Passengers always complain that we don’t stop at these areas, but this is because we are not allowed to do so,” he added.
Ng Kwan-shing, chairman of the Taxi Dealers and Owners Association, said more relaxed measures would ease the conflict with customers. “When we don’t offload passengers at one point and drive on a little more, the fare meter keeps running and this causes disputes.”
He said some commuters cannot understand why drivers refuse to pick them up in restricted areas. “Overseas and mainland tourists are not familiar with local laws.”
With the move only to be completed over the next two years, Ng said: “It would be better if the implementation comes earlier.” He stressed that the operating environment for taxis was already not ideal.
The measure is among recommendations floated in the Public Transport Strategy Study published in June 2017.
Under the move, drivers would no longer require permits to enter restricted zones at certain times of the day, for example, from 7am to 8pm or from 8am to 10am, depending on location.
On Friday, a spokesman for the department reminded drivers to continue exercising self-discipline and to strictly observe “no waiting” rules.
“If there are any violations of the rules causing obstruction to other road users, the government may consider implementing traffic control measures, including restoring the no-stopping restrictions for taxis at certain road sections,” he said.
Local taxi driver Franco Cheung said the new move would not make much of a difference, and the only big change would be not having to renew the permit yearly.
“It’s just fewer procedures to deal with,” he said.
Meanwhile, at a meeting between industry insiders and officials in Wan Chai, the N.W. Area Taxi Drivers & Operators Association demanded that police explain why ride-hailing service Uber, one of the industry’s biggest competitors, was not prosecuted.
Uber has come under pressure in Hong Kong where ride-sharing is illegal. Drivers risk being prosecuted for carrying passengers for reward without a hire-car permit. The government has so far rejected calls to come up with regulations so Uber can operate legally, insisting the company must abide by existing laws.
Association chairman Wong Wing-chung said it planned to lodge a complaint against officers who had handled recent cases of illegal rides offered by Uber, accusing police of not fulfilling their duties.