Users of some taxi apps are able to successfully hail rides for short-haul trips less than 20 per cent of the time, a new Consumer Council study has found.

Taxi apps such as HKTaxi allow users to input their pickup point and destination, and provide an option to pay drivers an extra fee as an incentive to pick up the fare. Requests are then broadcast to taxi drivers in the area and drivers then contact users if they pick up the order.

File Photo: GovHK.

The Consumer Council carried out tests on seven popular taxi apps, deploying a team of 80 to request 429 trips using the apps. It found that the overall success rate for hailing a ride ranged from 52 per cent to 98 per cent.

“The success rate was affected by a number of factors including the time for the booking, the distance of the journey, the offer of tipping and its amount, or even the cross-harbour tunnel opted. But the most disappointing was in short haul services – the success rate was as low as below 20% in certain taxi apps,” the watchdog said.

It found that in the majority of cases, the success rate of short-haul journeys was “clearly lower” than medium and long journeys, especially in an app that offered a 15 per cent discount.

The more a customer offered as a tip, the higher their chance of successfully hailing a cab, the study said. Rides that offered no tips had a success rate of lower than 30 per cent, while a tip of HK$30-$50 raised the success rate to 60 per cent. However, attracting or inducing customers in any manner violates the under the Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) Regulations, and the Consumer Council noted that some apps have since removed the input column for tips.

File Photo: GovHK.

Customers that chose the Western Harbour Tunnel or Eastern Harbor Crossing were much more likely to find a cab compared to those who chose the Cross Harbour Tunnel, which has a much lower toll. Customers are required to pay the toll fees for both their ride and the driver’s return trip.

The watchdog said the apps were intended to offer “fast and convenient transport service,” but the varying success rate may leave a negative impression on consumers.

Collecting ‘totally unrelated’ data

It also found that taxi apps tended to ask users for the right to collect and access their data – even when the information is “totally unrelated” to taxi-hailing services.

“The Council is deeply concerned that this is intrusive to consumer personal privacy and may even lead to sensitive information being leaked out. Consumers are urged to study and compare the various taxi apps, before download, their right in collection and access of data,” the Consumer Council said.

Data collected and accessed include memory card contents, the user’s photo, contacts, and records of phone communication. Some apps would even download the customer’s file without their knowledge.

“App service providers are urged to refrain from such a practice, and to clearly list out the information needed for the choice of consumers. In fact, one app was found to need only the location and other service-related information,” the watchdog said.

Two common taxi hailing apps in Hong Kong.

On Thursday, members of an alliance opposing drivers without hire-car permits staged a “slow-driving protest” against what they call the government’s lax attitude towards car-hailing services such as Uber.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.