Close

Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Hong Kong's Taxis Drivers Go Head-to-Head With Car-Hire Apps for Passengers

Taxi driver slow-drive protest helps promoting Uber.

Taxi driver protest helps promote Uber. Image from 852 post, an independent commentary platform in Hong Kong.

A group of taxi drivers launched a two-day slow-drive protest and urged the government to crack down on unlicensed car-hire businesses in Hong Kong last weekend. They threatened to hold a large-scale protest and block roads if the government fails to take actions.

In Hong Kong, unlicensed car-hire services have been operating in a legal grey area for a long time. For example, vans that provide luggage delivery service are often called to carry passengers to the airport. In recent years, the sector has expanded with the rise of mobile apps, including US-based Uber and Hong Kong-based GoGo Van, which connect would-be passengers to drivers.

The grievances of taxi drivers are by no means difficult to understand. The Hong Kong Taxi & PLB Association claims that taxi business has declined by 20% due to these unlicensed alternatives.

In the battle between Uber and taxis, the law seems to be on the taxis’ side. In Hong Kong, private vehicles that provide rental services to passengers must carry a license, otherwise the passengers would be unprotected by the third-party insurance if an accident occurs. Protesting taxi drivers are trying to pressure the government to tighten enforcement against unlicensed car-hire services.

Interestingly, their actions have helped promot ride-hailing mobile apps, in particular Uber. During the two-day protest, Uber was number one and two in app downloads in the Apple store and Google Play store for Hong Kong. Many netizens said they were unaware of the Uber app until the taxis drivers protested.

Many netizens also expressed discontent with taxi drivers. An anonymous columnist, “Ballroom in the South” from citizen media platform inmediahk.net, complained about some taxi drivers’ illegal practice of selecting and over-charging passengers:

這些明目張膽揀客的司機是香港之恥,遊客當然首當其衝,他們除了被拒載,還是會被濫收車資、兜路,但市民也一樣受了不少的士司機的劣質服務。每逢周末,中環一帶,所有的士司機都是冚旗揀客的,灣仔唔去、屯門又唔去?去黃泉路好不好?

Taxi drivers who blatantly choose passengers are a shame to Hong Kong. Tourists are, of course, the most vulnerable — in addition to rejecting tourists, taxi drivers take a longer route and charge a higher fee. But even Hong Kongers have to bear the poor service of the taxi drivers: every weekend, taxi drivers in Central District would cover their meters and pick passengers. They are reluctant to go to a [nearby] region like Wanchai and a region [that's too far away] like Tuen Mun. Why not go to hell?

The writer then praised Uber's service:

Uber好處太多,只是用信用卡找數一項,對乘客來說已是重大發明,香港的士到今時今日還不能以信用卡/八達通付款是一大落後。

Advantages of Uber abound. To name one, payment by credit card is a breakthrough to many passengers. Taxis in Hong Kong lag behind as payment by neither credit card nor [electronic payment service] Octopus is accepted.

HR Bear, a columnist of VJMedia, an independent online news site, also praise Uber's rating and complaint system:

uber既出現,就係迎合市場上呢個無可避免既大趨勢,call車方便,而且特別對於女仔黎講係感覺有保障,佢地提供投訴同埋評分渠道,如果有司機被投訴就會被「cut 單」,所以服務質素大致上有保證。

The rise of Uber is an inevitable trend given customers’ call for convenient and reliable service. For women, Uber proves to be more secure because it provides mechanisms for rating and complaints. If a driver is complained about, he or she will lose business from Uber, so the service is generally satisfactory.

Having examined the advantages of Uber, one valid question to ask is whether taxis will eventually be replaced completely in Hong Kong. In the foreseeable future, it's unlikely. For one thing, Uber is short of vehicles to satisfy all customers. For another thing, as people cannot hail Uber vehicles on the street, traditional taxis are more used when people are in a hurry.

What complicates the matter further is the legal side of the debate. If Uber is unlawfully providing services without a car-hire permit, what the government should do is either enforce the law or amend it. In this regard, we should all stay tuned to see which side will win the tug of war — taxi drivers or customers who call for better services.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site