Outraged by a Hong Kong Consumer Council report urging the city to legalise ride-hailing services, the taxi industry on Thursday threatened to sue the government if it followed the watchdog’s recommendations.
The Association for the Rights of Liberty Taxi Drivers, representing some 18,000 members, issued the warning as it hit back at the council for its findings last month. The council called on officials to relax the current 1,500 private car-rental permit system to allow ride-hailing vehicles to be on the road legally.
“We are now seeking legal advice,” group vice-chairman Don Li Lam-cheung revealed. “If the government actually adopts the Consumer Council’s suggestions to legalise ride-hailing firms in Hong Kong, we won’t rule out launching a judicial review against the government as such a policy would hurt the taxi industry.”
“The Consumer Council’s report is very unfair to us as under this new platform ride-hailing operators don’t need to pay for any licensing fees while taxi operators need to dish out about HK$7 million (US$896,000) to purchase a taxi licence,” he added.
Another group, the Association for Taxi Industry Development, formed by taxi firm owners and involving 5,000 taxis, declared it would launch a signature campaign from Friday for the city’s 40,000 taxi drivers and the community. The group wanted the council to review its stance on the issue.
The plan came as it accused the watchdog of breaching professionalism by encouraging consumers to use ride-hailing firms such as Uber that are outlawed in the city for operating without a car-rental permit and third-party insurance.
“The Consumer Council is supposed to protect consumer interests and counter illegal operations,” the association’s vice-chairman Wong Yu-ting said. “But in its report, the council didn’t condemn any of Uber’s illegal operations, which have been taking place in Hong Kong since 2014.
“On the contrary, the council seems to encourage this kind of illegal operation in Hong Kong. The council also failed to consult the views of the taxi industry before it drafted its report. I find this whole study unfair for law-abiding taxi drivers.”
However, the council’s spokeswoman claimed the watchdog never encouraged illegal ride-hailing in Hong Kong, adding: “In fact, we have warned consumers about the risks of taking such rides, such as the lack of third-party insurance.”
“Our study was meant to examine the different approaches adopted by overseas governments in dealing with these emerging service providers and come up with suggestions on their sustainable development in Hong Kong.”
Under the council’s proposal, existing cabbies could also be players under the new scheme, which might attract three to 11 operators. The proposed market reform was aimed at giving consumers more choices as many passengers expressed dissatisfaction with local taxi drivers’ service. Common complaints include rudeness, overcharging and refusing to give passengers rides.