Hong Kong is set to reform taxi services, including strengthening punishments for drivers and relaxing passenger limits from five to six per vehicles, the Transport and Logistics Bureau has said.
The city had seen “increasing criticisms” over taxi services and drivers’ conduct in recent years, the bureau said in a document filed to the Legislative Council on Wednesday.
Complaints against taxi services rose by more than 90 per cent in the past two years, with 2,397 cases reported last year, compared to 1,238 in 2020, the bureau said in April in response to a legislator’s questions.
Under a Transport and Logistics Bureau draft amendment bill, a new regulatory regime would be introduced to encourage taxi owners to form “licensed taxi fleets.” The authority said the fleets would serve as platforms to regulate service quality.
Currently, regulation of the taxi industry is loose. There are 18,163 taxi licences in Hong Kong, owned by nearly 9,000 license holders. However, licenses are issued without any conditions directly related to service quality, the bureau said.
Under the amended bill, a taxi fleet should include 300 to 1,000 urban taxis, or 100 to 350 taxis in the New Territories. Each taxi in a fleet must be less than three years old, and at least 10 per cent of the fleet must be barrier-free taxis accessible to people with disabilities.
The authority said that fleet licences were not compulsory and would not replace the existing taxi licence.
An industry association said it welcomed the idea of introducing licences taxi fleets, but said incentives for taxi owners or companies were low if fares of fleet taxis remained the same as other taxis.
“Now there are no brands in the taxi industry. Every taxi is the same, and there is no incentive for taxi drivers to provide better service,” Ryan Wong, chairperson of the Hong Kong Taxi Council, told HKFP, “With taxi fleets, we could differentiate taxis by colour, and identify different brands. It might help facilitate better service.”
However, Wong said that fleet management required higher costs such as drivers training, setting up hotlines for complaints, and purchasing new vehicles. “Therefore if fleets were run at the current fares, I don’t see any incentive for business owners to set up a fleet,” Wong said.
Under the proposed amendments, fleets could charge “customised fares” for pre-arranged trips but did specify the fare.
Passengers limit set to 6
The maximum passenger capacity would be increased from five to six, with the bureau saying the measure was introduced to meet demand for more comfortable compartments, and was also an industry suggestion.
Currently, about 80 per cent of Hong Kong’s taxis seat four passengers, while the rest are five-passenger vehicles.
The government also proposed toughening penalties for taxi drivers by introducing a two-tier penalty system. Misconducts such as overcharging and wilfully refusing to accept a hire would face heavier punishments.
While fines and imprisonment of first convictions would remain the same, subsequent convictions would see increased penalties of HK$25,000 and up to 12-month sentences.
The amendment bills including Road Traffic Ordinance and Taxi Driver Offence Points Bill will be published on Friday and tabled next Wednesday.
Increased penalties for Uber drivers
Meanwhile, the transport authority also proposed raising the penalty for “illegal carriage of passengers for hire or reward by motor vehicles”.
Since its launch in the city nine years ago, ride-hailing services offered by Uber drivers without hire car permits have been deemed illegal.
In 2020, 24 Uber drivers who were convicted of “carrying passengers for hire or reward without a permit” at Magistrates’ Court filed an appeal against their convictions to the Court of Final Appeal. The court dismissed the appeal in 2022.
Under the amendment bill, the authority proposed increasing the maximum fines to HK$10,000 and HK$25,000 for the first and subsequent convictions, respectively. The period of suspension of vehicle licence and impoundment of vehicle would be extended from the current three months and six months to six months and 12 months for the first and subsequent
HKFP has reached out to Uber for a response.
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