‘A few bad apples’: Hong Kong police record over 2,700 malpractice complaints against cabbies, surpassing pre-pandemic number

Hong Kong police have received more than 2,700 complaints of alleged malpractices involving taxi drivers in the first eight months of this year, surpassing the total number of pre-pandemic cases recorded throughout 2019.

The force released the latest figures on Wednesday as it revealed an undercover operation had snared several cabbies, including one suspect caught overcharging for a trip from Tsim Sha Tsui to Disneyland last Saturday, increasing the price fourfold to HK$800 (US$102).

“These illegal activities have attracted widespread public attention recently,” Superintendent Nip Hoi-kwan of the force’s traffic branch said.

“A few bad apples in the taxi industry have not only affected the entire sector’s reputation, but also damaged Hong Kong’s image as an international city.”

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Among the 2,701 complaints received between January and August, 1,073 of them involved cabbies refusing to take passengers. Another 756 cases concerned unnecessary detours and 745 were for overcharging.

The figure for the eight-month period surpassed the 2,298 cases recorded for all of 2019. The number of complaints stood at 1,027 during the first year of the pandemic in 2020, reaching 1,665 and 1,823 in the following two years.

The most commonly recorded complaint from 2019 to 2022 was taxi drivers refusing to take passengers, followed by unnecessary detours and overcharging.

But police stopped short of saying how many of this year’s complaints had resulted in officers taking follow-up actions or prosecutions.

The force also discussed details of a covert operation targeting illegal car rental services and malpractice among cabbies. The initiative started last Friday and wraps up on October 6.

Police have so far issued 173 subpoenas to drivers during the operation, checking popular stops such as Disneyland, Lan Kwai Fong and the airport.

Officers also arrested 10 men, comprising three cabbies and seven drivers who allegedly offered illegal car rental services.

They also ticketed 177 taxi drivers and towed away five taxis for breaches of road vehicle maintenance regulations.

“The National Day Golden Week holiday is approaching. I hope, through this press conference, we can alert the bad apples in the industry and prevent them from breaking the law again,” Nip said.

“Even if our actions are complete, it does not mean that our law enforcement has stopped, and we will not tolerate illegal activities.”

2 Hong Kong taxi drivers arrested for alleged overcharging in Tsim Sha Tsui

Police said they would also distribute leaflets to tourists at popular attractions to raise awareness and set up roadblocks near seven immigration checkpoints to check whether taxis had violated any regulations.

Concerns about cabbies’ conduction entered the spotlight earlier after a mainland Chinese influencer with more than 200,000 followers revealed on social media that a driver had tried to charge the tourist HK$200 to travel from Central to Causeway Bay, more than three times the standard fare.

On Wednesday, Chief Inspector Lau Chun-ho said undercover officers had hired three drivers offering illegal driving services at three checkpoints, with the suspects charging HK$450 to HK$650.

The officers subsequently revealed their identities and arrested the three men, aged between 31 and 33, on suspicion of driving without third-party risk insurance and illegally carrying passengers for rental or reward.

The Transport and Logistics Bureau last month said it had proposed amending the law to increase penalties for illegally renting out or carrying passengers for reward, after taxi groups expressed concerns.

The force plans to handout leaflets informing tourists about the city’s rules for cabbies. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Under the current system, ride-hailing apps such as Uber and DiDi are considered a legal grey area. The companies continue to operate in Hong Kong, despite such services being considered illegal without a hire-car permit.

Anyone caught operating illegal car rental services could be fined HK$5,000 and spend three months in jail, while subsequent offenders face a HK$10,000 fine and six months in prison.

Security chief Chris Tang Ping-keung on Wednesday also announced the city’s crime tally stood at 58,453 cases between January and August, a 34.6 per cent increase from the same period last year.

The minister highlighted a spike in the number of deception-related crimes, jumping jumped 52.2 per cent over the same period and reaching 25,521 cases.

“It is a very shocking figure,” he said.

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A breakdown of the overall crime figure showed deception cases accounted for 43.6 per cent of the figure, Tang added.

According to the minister, more than 70 per cent of scams involved online shopping sites. Another 16 per cent were centred around fake investments and 14 per cent were bogus job offers.

But Tang said the force had also made more than 3,300 arrests and terminated the telecommunications service of 300,000 local callers as part of a crackdown on the scam syndicates.

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