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Editorial:Rescue Taxi Trade via Reform, Not Fare Hikes

【明報專訊】The Executive Council has approved a fare increase for taxis. However, the increase was lower than what the industry had demanded, and taxi unions have expressed their dissatisfaction. Yet, in the eyes of the general public, the truly exorbitant demand is the industry's original request for a fare hike of about 20%.

Hong Kong's taxi industry has serious structural problems. The deteriorating service quality is the real reason for the industry's decline. The losing out of the taxi trade to illegal ride-hailing services is actually a "symptom" rather than the "source" of its problems. The taxi industry cannot be rescued by increasing the fares — it can only save itself by service improvement. The legislation introduced by the government last year to establish a taxi fleet regime is the last opportunity for the industry's reform. If there is still no significant improvement in its service quality, the authorities should give private ride-hailing the "green light" and let the market principle of the survival of the fittest run its course.

The last fare hike for Hong Kong taxis was in July 2022, with an average increase of 12.8%. Less than two years later, the industry submitted yet another application for a fare hike, proposing an increase of $5, $4.5 and $6 respectively for the flag-fall rate for urban taxis (red cabs), New Territories taxis (green cabs) and Lantau taxis (blue cabs). The rates of the proposed increases were 18.5%, 19.1% and 27.3%. Such an astonishing demand for a rise was indeed unacceptable. This time, the Executive Council approved a $2 increase in flag-fall charges for all cabs, meaning an increase rate of about 9% to 11%. In many citizens' opinion, the Executive Council was already too "lenient".

The service quality of Hong Kong taxis has been frequently criticised. Many citizens and tourists have had the unpleasant experience of drivers refusing to take passengers, taking detours and overcharging. The trade often claims that increasing driver income can help improve services. But the reality is that the service remains unchanged even after fare hikes. In the first quarter following the taxi fare increase in July 2022, the number of complaints about cab services rose rather than dropped. Last year, the authorities received more than 11,000 complaints about cabs, not only representing a rapid year-on-year increase of 50%, but also surpassing the pre-pandemic level of 10,000 complaints per year.

A commonly stated reason for taxi fare increases has been "improving driver income". But in reality, taxi companies and owners are those who benefit most from price increases. It has been pointed out by professional taxi drivers that following each fare hike, taxi owners and companies would immediately raise the taxi rents, leaving limited benefits for drivers. The business may even be better off without fare increases.

Many citizens prefer unauthorised ride-hailing services over cabs because there is no guarantee of getting consistent service quality from taxis. There are serious structural problems in Hong Kong's taxi industry. As taxi licences are permanent, ever since the government stopped issuing new licences in 1994, the approximately 10,000 taxi licences on the market have become investment tools. Many licence holders only see the licence as an asset for speculation or getting rental income, and some licence holders are unwilling to make investments to replace worn-out taxis. The ageing of cab drivers has resulted in frequent accidents, while young newbies are reluctant to enter the trade.

Last year, the government amended regulations to raise the penalties for "cherry-picking" passengers and overcharging by taxi drivers as well as those for "illegal ride-hailing services". A taxi fleet regime was also introduced to promote the reform of the taxi industry. The government has recently started to invite interested parties to apply for the fleet licence with the hope of improving taxi services. Reforming the industry through the implementation of the fleet regime has become the industry's final hope for self-help.

明報社評 2024.05.15:加價難救的士業 改革機會須把握

行政會議通過的士加價,但加幅低於業界要求,商會表示失望,然而看在一般市民眼裏,業界原先申請要求加價約兩成,才是真正獅子開大口。

本港的士行業存在嚴重結構性問題,服務質素每况愈下,才是行業走下坡的真正原因,網約白牌車搶生意其實是「病徵」而非「病源」。的士加價救不了行業,唯有改善服務才能自救,政府去年立法引入的士專營車隊制度,已是業界改革最後機會,倘若服務質素仍無顯著改善,當局便應該為網約車「開綠燈」,由市場汰弱留強。

本港的士對上一次加價為2022年7月,平均加幅達到12.8%。事隔未夠兩年,業界又向政府提出加價申請,建議市區的士(紅的)、新界的士(綠的)和大嶼山的士(藍的)起表分別加5元、4.5元及6元,加幅達到18.5%、19.1%和27.3%。如此驚人的加幅要求,委實令人難以接受。今次行會批准的士加價,所有的士起表一律加2元,加幅大約介乎9%至11%,看在不少市民眼裏,其實已是太過「手鬆」。

本港的士服務質素屢惹詬病,不少市民和旅客都遇過的士拒載、兜路、濫收車資等不快經歷。業界常稱改善收入有助改善服務,現實卻是加價後服務質素依然故我。2022年7月的士加價後,當季的士投訴數字不減反增;去年當局共收到逾1.1萬宗的士投訴,按年急升五成,更超過疫前每年約萬宗的水平。

的士加價一個常見理由,是「改善司機收入」,現實是的士車行和車主,才是加價最大得益者,有職業的士司機指出,每次的士加價,車主車行都會馬上調高車租,司機受惠有限,不加價生意隨時更好。

不少市民捨的士寧取網約車,原因是的士服務質素參差缺保證。本港的士行業存在嚴重結構性問題,由於的士牌照屬永久性質,自從1994年政府不再發新牌後,市面上約萬個的士牌照就變成投資工具。不少持牌人只視的士牌為一種可以炒賣和放租換取收入的資產,部分持牌人不願投資更換老舊的士。司機高齡化下意外頻生,年輕新人不願入行。

政府去年修例,提高的士拒載濫收車費以及有關「白牌車」的罰則,另外又引入的士車隊管理制度,推動的士業改革。政府不久前已開始邀請車隊申請牌照,希望提升的士服務質素。車隊管理制度改革,已成為業界自救最後希望。

/ Glossary生字 /

exorbitant:(of a price) much too high

detour:a longer route that you take in order to avoid a problem or to visit a place

cherry-picking:the act of choosing the best people or things from a group and leaving those that are not so good

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