Hong Kong taxi industry leaders say government-backed plans to clamp down on illegal ride-hailing services aren’t going far enough


Hong Kong’s taxi industry leaders on Saturday argued that a government-backed proposal to increase the maximum jail time for unlicensed drivers carrying passengers for hire failed to go far enough.

The call for harsher punishments against unlicensed drivers came a day after authorities said they planned to impose stricter penalties for motorists illegally offering rides for cash, bringing the proposed curbs in line with a separate bill clamping down on separate offences concerning cabbies.

Chow Kwok-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association, on Saturday said the proposed amendments would help to put both groups on a more equal footing, but the penalties for unlicensed drivers needed to be more stringent.

“We still believe that the measures taken by the government are not enough,” he said.

Hong Kong cabbies rally in latest drive against illegal ride-hailing services

Lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming, who represents the transport sector, on Friday called for the maximum sentence for first-time offenders caught illegally carrying passengers for cash or any other reward to be increased from three months to six.

Repeat offenders should face terms of up to one year, an increase from the current six months, he said.

However, Chow urged authorities to impose heavy fines on unlicensed drivers and their passengers to act as a greater deterrent, arguing the government needed to devise a long-term plan to regulate ride-hailing services.

Hong Kong Taxi Council vice-chairman Ng Kwan-sing welcomed the measures but said more needed to be done to clamp down on the practice and called for greater regulation to tackle the issue at its roots.

Lawmaker Frankie Yick has urged authorities to further regulate illegal ride-hailing services. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

The proposal represents the latest effort to crack down on ride-hailing services, such as those offered by Uber, which are illegal without a hire-car permit.

The Post has contacted Uber for comment.

Authorities agreed to raise Yick’s proposal to amend the Road Traffic Ordinance during a bills committee meeting, after the government originally argued the current penalties posed a sufficient deterrent.

The legislator’s stance was prompted by separate government efforts to introduce harsher punishments against cabbies caught overcharging, wilfully refusing or neglecting a passenger, unwilling to take customers to their agreed destination or tampering with taxi meters.

Under the separate proposal, taxi drivers convicted of the four offences can face a fine of up to HK$25,000 and a maximum prison sentence of one year.

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During the meeting on Friday, the lawmaker argued it was unfair for cabbies to face stringent penalties when other drivers were offering illegal ride-hailing services faced more lenient ones, even as a growing number using rented vehicles to conduct such activities.

Discussing the government’s decision to back Yick’s proposal, Deputy Secretary for Transport and Logistics Edward Mak Chun-yu said: “This would, of course, respond to all the suggestions from lawmakers and residents, this will also tackle the situation where drivers are using the cars of other people to provide illegal car hire service.”

The Transport and Logistics Bureau would also cooperate with police to ramp up enforcement efforts, creating a dual-pronged approach to further deter potential offenders.

Uber lobbied politicians, broke laws in global push: reports

Labour sector lawmaker Dennis Leung Tsz-wing, who also backed Yick’s proposal, said penalties for those offering illegal ride-hailing services should match those for similar offences related to taxi drivers.

“Those who are breaking the law again after they have done so before might even need to have an even more serious penalty than taxi drivers, so you can send a message to the public that society cannot accept this and the government is concerned about it,” he said.

Officials said they would present an amendment to the bills committee on December 13.


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