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Hong Kong Sevens

When will they learn? Taxi drivers still trying the great Hong Kong Sevens rip-off

It’s time the government cracked down on cabbies taking advantage of overseas visitors and charging exorbitant fares

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 1:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 3:06pm

There are plenty of entrepreneurs looking to make a quick buck during the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens  – it’s a boom period where the city reaps a HK$380 million bonanza thanks to overseas visitors.

From the legendary bars of Wan Chai to hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist attractions, the average visitor spends HK$19,000 on local businesses during their stay, according to market research carried out by the Hong Kong Rugby Union for the 2017 event. 

But some of those looking to benefit do so in more dishonest ways.

Last week the Post published a complaint from one UK tourist who had flown in for the Sevens, rightly highlighting the extortionate fares demanded by taxi drivers outside Hong Kong Stadium after the rugby ends.

A stream of taxis put up “out of service” signs but drivers happily lean out the window to tell you they will take you to Central for anywhere between HK$200 to HK$400.

The fare price for such a ride would usually set you back about HK$50, or HK$70 at most if there was traffic, but the roads are empty on a Sunday night. 

Clearly these drivers know boozed-up tourists looking to carry on the party either won’t know the difference or won’t care about paying a little more, and certainly won’t want the hassle of trying to locate the MTR. 

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Filing out of the media zone with my colleagues on Sunday night after we had put the finishing touches to another Sevens week, we planned to head to Central ourselves for a beer. 

Walking around to the front of the stadium, there were still taxis coming and going. We thought the gig might be up by now – they surely wouldn’t still be ripping people off, two hours after everyone had left the stadium.

But lo and behold, when we tried to jump in a cab, one driver was still touting HK$400 as the price. Even though it only would’ve been HK$100 each between four of us, it was the principle of not being taken for a ride, so to speak, that mattered.

We tried another taxi, and managed to work the driver down from HK$400 to HK$200, which didn’t seem so bad – and by this point we were getting thirsty. 

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Our colleagues behind us were quoted HK$400 outside the stadium for a taxi to Central, before one of our Cantonese-speaking reporters tried to haggle. The driver immediately put up his out-of-service sign, knowing his game was up – you don’t try to rip off a local.

Instead my colleagues walked about 200 yards towards Causeway Bay and found an honest cab driver who had the meter on. They ended up paying HK$46 to get to the same bar as us.

When will these cabbies learn? They give Hong Kong a bad name and leave a sour taste in the mouth for tourists.

It’s not just the Sevens. They pull the same trick every night in the taxi rank at Lan Kwai Fong, too – I’ve had many an argument with a taxi driver trying to charge me HK$100 to go home to Wan Chai, for what should be a HK$30 journey. 

I always end up storming off in a huff and walking home, but it’s the only exercise I get these days.

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Taxi drivers in Hong Kong deservedly get a bad rap, but not all of them are dishonest. One lovely driver saved my bacon on my second night after moving to the city, when I discovered I not only had no money in my wallet but that I’d also misplaced my English bank card somewhere the night before. 

He kindly waited for me on Wyndham Street while I popped down to Lan Kwai Fong to borrow HK$100 off my friend so I could pay him – he could have just cut his losses and driven off.

These guys know they have to make a certain amount each hour so waiting around for idiots like me to sort their life out is not in their best interest.

Another friendly taxi driver once told me all about his daily routine – how he works 18 hours a day just to make ends meet, and is lucky to get four hours of sleep. But sadly the nice guys seem to be few and far between.

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It’s also understandable that Hong Kong has become a battleground for taxi drivers as they struggle to compete with Uber, while the government has also proposed introducing a premium service of franchised cabs – something the taxi trade sees as a threat.

Still, there can be no sympathy for those who are happy to break the law and take advantage of customers.

Not turning on the meter is illegal, given taxi drivers’ contractual obligations, and it’s high time the government cracked down on this behaviour.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged last week she will look into raising the penalty for ticket scalping amid a surge of public anger as touts hawk show tickets at exorbitant prices.

Things are no different at the Sevens – although some potential profiteers got a bit of comeuppance this year with an overabundance of tickets because of the Easter and Ching Ming holidays, meaning prices on the secondary market were lower than face value.

Lam said she may make ticket scalping illegal at government-run venues and it would be nice to see similar efforts put into enforcing taxi fares are also kept in line for these events.