(This letter was published in South China Morning Post on 1 May 2017)
In the past couple of weeks Government, taxi trade and the politicians have made claims and counterclaims about premium taxis (http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/economy/article/2089217/taxi-2020-hong-kong-lawmaker-proposes-regulatory-system-trade). I completely agree that the current taxi trade is fraught with problems and needs fixing, which is the Government’s argument. But if I may ask, who exactly created this problem? Should Government not bear the onus of bad outcome of a mis-guided policy carried over for decades? It’s rather unfair to pass the entire blame on the trade most of whose front-line workers are living on meager income, finding it difficult to make ends meet.
So, Government created one monster and now trying to create another one in the form of premium taxis to kill the first one. If anybody cares to read the numbers, one will find that today the most critical problem of taxi trade is lack of drivers (due to low pay the average age of taxi drivers is more than 55 years) which means that a large number of taxis remain off-road during peak demand periods. Can somebody enlighten me how adding 600 more licenses under the pretext of Premium Taxis is going to address the problem? Of course, these licenses will be valuable (circa $6 million currently) and doled out to some fat cats who will merely be interested in further fattening their balance sheets.
Assuming that we will magically find all the drivers needed to operate the taxis, adding 600 taxis would mean on an average 30 odd additional taxis per district. Seriously?! That will eliminate our woes? Why not open the market for any new entrant as Singapore has done and let them compete for passengers? Are we not flying the flag of free economy anymore?
If the intent is to improve the service environment in lieu of 50% premium on fares, why not give the same incentive to existing operators? I am sure with additional income, not only will the existing operators be ready to bring in better quality vehicles but will also be able to attract sufficient drivers to the trade. Hong Kong is seeing traffic congestion of unprecedented levels now. Do we really want to add more traffic by unnecessarily adding more cars on to the roads just to tick a box? The trade is complaining about lack of consultation. I am not sure how true is that but I fail to see why Government can’t regulate the existing trade better. I am not sure the new monster will kill the older one or not but it will sure turn on us eventually. Two flawed policies do not make it right.
Government is calling this Premium Taxi plan a trial. What if it doesn’t work? I have yet to see any KPIs against which its success will be benchmarked. Do you want us to live in a delusion that it will ever be rolled back?
Oh! I forgot to mention Uber. With 50% more fares on premium taxis which will be difficult to find anyway, I am sure public would continue to use the Uber as they are now. I can almost hear the Uber guys chuckle. Perhaps due to supposedly brilliant designs of the Government, Hong Kong will be the first place where they will become profitable!