15 Hong Kong taxi fleets vie for 5 licences as competition heats up under new plan to improve service

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The selection would be based on six major criteria, such as management capability, vehicle quality and safety-related equipment, and online hailing and fleet dispatch plan, he added.

Under the scheme, selected operators would be required to start their fleet within 12 months after the grant of the licences.

Wong Yue-ting, the chairman of the Hong Kong Tele-call Taxi Association, who has made an application for a consortium of 12 companies in the New Territories, said his team were prepared to invest HK$100 million (US$12.8 million) in new taxis and extra training for between 500 and 700 drivers.

“Our chance might not be high, but we will try our best, depending on the government’s decision,” Wong said.

He told a radio programme that his application included more than 1,600 vehicles and it was planned to buy 350 new cabs.

Wong added his team would also need to spend about HK$3 million to HK$5 million on service upgrades such as car cameras and mobile apps in the first six months if the application was successful.

“We hope to improve the image of New Territories taxis among passengers,” Wong said.

He added the driver training would mostly involve customer service skills and the programme would be expanded to include drivers who were not part of the fleet.

Taxi firms have gone head to head to secure five new service licences up for grabs as part of a government plan to improve services. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Wong said they would arrange training sessions for drivers who were the subject of customer complaints and that serious offenders would be fired.

He added the group would also work with one to two ride-hailing platforms from mainland China, as well as running their own mobile app for booking cabs.

A set of requirements were imposed for the licences, including provision of online booking channels on mobile applications and websites, e-payment options and the installation of CCTV systems in cabs.

The taxis must also be three years old or less when they join the fleet.

Government statistics showed that complaints and suggestions involving taxi services stood at 11,096 in 2023 – 52.8 per cent higher than the year before.

Taxi drivers who refused a hire and overcharged were among the top complaints.

The government earlier said that introduction of new taxi fleet rules could help foster “healthy competition among different taxi fleets, as well as taxi fleets and non-fleet taxis, and gradually change the trade’s ecology through market evolution.”

Chau Kwok-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association and founder of Jumbo Taxi, was previously sceptical about the scheme in October, but decided to apply to operate a fleet of 400 premium taxis, saying he would invest about HK$70 million.

Asked about his change of heart, Chau told the Post that the U-turn was due to the government’s commitment to banning illegal carriage of passengers.

“The two mainland Chinese platforms, Didi Chuxing and Amap, venturing into the Hong Kong taxi market stated that they will not use private vehicles, dispelling concerns within the local taxi industry. In light of these developments, I am optimistic about the industry’s future prospects,” he said.

Chau was referring to the use of private vehicles by the ride-hailing service company Uber. The local taxi industry has long complained that Uber threatened their businesses as they operated without a hire-car permit required for taxis in the city, and were hence unregulated.

“The government has also said they will ban illegal carriage of passengers, so if we provide premium taxies and attract our lost customers back, that would help with our business,” he said, adding that the scheme could help change the overall reputation of the taxi industry.

With new vehicles in the fleet equipped with a digital payment system, a proper complaint mechanism and clearly-stated charges at the start of fares, Chau believed the number of conflicts and complaints over taxi rides would be reduced.

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