It wasn’t so long ago that the taxi service in Hong Kong was a huge asset for the city. Now it seems many of the cabs on the street don’t want to pick up rides unless they’re  convenient for the driver. Why taxi drivers have become averse to driving passengers is not clear, but it’s now a very inconvenient reality in a city that prides itself on the ease of getting around.

Photo: HKFP.

If you’ve been rudely rebuffed by a cabbie, you may wonder if they are entitled to refuse to provide rides.  So, let’s get this apparent confusion cleared up. Here’s the information directly from the Transport Complaints Department:

“The Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) Regulations stipulate that the driver of a taxi shall not without reasonable excuse wilfully refuse or neglect to accept a hire from a hirer whether the intention of such hirer is indicated expressly or by implication and refuse or neglect to drive the taxi to any place indicated by a hirer.”

So, there it is, taxi drivers are obliged, by law, to drive you to your destination and not refuse reasonable requests. It is a criminal offence for them to refuse and they can be prosecuted.

But the obligation does not end there. As a taxi user, you have to take it upon yourself to insist that any taxi driver takes you to your chosen destination and, if they refuse, to follow through and report them.

Here’s the complaint website here and here’s the direct email:

Every time we let a taxi get away with refusing a hire, we hit a nail in the coffin of a decent service. Unlike the taxi driver, you are not legally required to report a refusal, but you are morally obliged to make sure that the standard of service doesn’t decline. I already have complaints against taxi drivers in process, and here’s what you can do when you come across one of these shirkers.

Hong Kong Taxi. Photo: Kevin Poh via Flikr.

When hailing a cab, get in the cab before you tell them your destination. Hailing a cab in Hong Kong is not a negotiation, it is a service contract with rules, regulated by the government, to which the taxi driver, by being granted a licence, has already agreed. And the rules are clear, that they will unquestioningly drive you to your destination.  If the driver refuses to drive you to your destination, get out your phone and start videoing them straight away. Be as clear as you can, ask “Are you refusing to take me to destination X?” Make sure you also get a good shot of their taxi licence number.

This will usually do the trick, but even when faced with such overwhelming pressure to do their job, some taxi drivers still refuse to go. A favourite trick is then to feign that the taxi won’t start, by turning the ignition on but not adding petrol. This tactic is clearly aimed at trying to create a ‘reasonable excuse’ as to why the driver couldn’t take you if you proceed with any complaint. Don’t be fooled. The main thing here is to be persistent. Reasonable excuses to refuse lifts involve you being too drunk or violent. Not wanting to cross the harbour or drive to the New Territories are not reasonable excuses.

If the taxi driver truly refuses to take you, then there is nothing you can do to make him go, but DON’T forget to make a complaint. Get all his details including their licence number, their mug-shot and a photo of the car registration plate. If after being treated so badly, you fail to make the complaint, you are emboldening the bad driver and failing in your moral obligation to yourself and the city. If you are already one of the many citizens who have registered a complaint, then give yourself a pat on the back. If you haven’t yet made a complaint, be prepared to do your bit the next time you receive such appalling service.

File Photo. Photo: Wikimedia Common.

But this is not all that can be done! The Hong Kong police need to get out there and fix this problem too. We’ve all grown accustomed to the police mobilizing a battalion of uniformed and plain-clothes officers to intimidate and film a handful of disenfranchised kids expressing their political discontent. Well, some of these plain-clothes officers need to get into some cabs and start making arrests and save the reputation of the city. With police acting as passengers, this terrible new habit will be stamped out in a matter of weeks. What are the police waiting for?

It’s time to wage a multi-faceted war on bad service from taxi drivers now.

In many ways, as users, we are responsible for the service we are now receiving, but now is the time to say NO! We are not going to take this any longer!

Taxi driver –  take me to my destination, and maintain the service Hong Kong deserves.

Richard Scotford

Richard is a freelance writer and long term resident of Hong Kong. He has a Master's Degree in Chinese Studies from CUHK and describes himself as a noisy muser on all things China. He has travelled extensively in Western China and once owned a trekking lodge high on the Tibetan border. He has a raw style of Opinion Journalism, with special interests in the South China Seas and deciphering Hong Kong's Localist/Independence groups.