On Monday, dozens of Hong Kong taxi drivers staged a protest against vehicle rental services which they say undercut their income.
However, they’re not getting much sympathy from people who instead want them to improve their service rather than complain about competition.
Mobile car rental services have become increasingly popular, with apps like GoGoVan and Uber grabbing business from licensed taxis.
Taxi drivers are upset about that. They accuse unlicensed operators of such cars and vans of conducting illegal business.
But passengers are only too happy about having a wider choice.
They’re weighing in on social media, praising Uber for acting as a catalyst for change in Hong Kong’s taxi industry.
Many locals have unpleasant experiences with taxi drivers.
Ignoring passengers when they are hailed, making questionable detours and bad attitude are just a few of them.
Taxi drivers are known to fuss about short rides because they don’t make much money on these and for fretting like a mad man in a traffic jam.
Although Hong Kong law forbids taxi drivers to refuse a hire, many do by giving all kinds of excuses.
Some drivers would drive past passengers in school uniform, quickly concluding they’re not going anywhere far.
Or some would simply refuse to open the car door after asking where the passenger wants to go.
There are reasons Uber is popular in Hong Kong.
Uber drivers provide excellent service, a lot better than cabbies.
They’re tidy and more presentable in white shirt, tie, dark pants and black shoes. Uber requires its drivers to supply two bottles of drinking water and a USB port for their passengers.
Also, Uber passengers have the last say — they can rate the driver’s performance after each ride through an app.
Which is why Uber drivers are always on their toes: they help carry luggage to the trunk and offload it where a taxi driver might sit around and wait for the passenger to disappear.
Of course, not all taxi drivers are bad but the problem is when a taxi driver also owns the business, which is mostly the case in Hong Kong.
That often makes them more likely to do as they please.
Word of mouth, which is important in any business, does not apply to them.
After all, there’s almost no chance a passenger will encounter the same taxi driver again.
So taxi drivers tend to make the most of each ride while paying little attention to their service.
A taxi license trades at about HK$7 million. Drivers pay a rental fee of HK$1,200 per shift, which explains why things are what they are in the industry.
But these should not be used as an excuse for poor service.
If stakeholders in the industry want to be competitive, they should work together to improve their own situation rather than blame their predicament on others.
For example, they could set up an online rating system in which each driver will be given a code or reference number.
Passengers could use this to rate the driver’s performance through their smartphones.
Incentives and demerits could be applied to rental fees — lower rental fees for good performance and vice versa.
Mobile car rental services won’t replace taxis anytime soon. The taxi industry has plenty of time to get its act together.
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