Tien says HK should open market for ride-hailing services

January 15, 2018 12:55
Lawmaker Michael Tien said banning ride-hailing services is "inappropriate" for a city that wants to ride the smart city trend. Photo: Reuters/HKEJ

The Hong Kong smart city blueprint, which was published last month, failed to discuss hot issues such as ride-hailing services.

Michael Tien, chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel, said that with the MTR system already overloaded, banning ride-hailing services is "inappropriate" for a city that wants to ride the smart city trend.

The government's blueprint for attaining smart city status is "just slogans to shout", said Tien, who is a former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC).

Hong Kong authorities have been tough on ride-hailing firms since they entered the city a few years ago, declaring their services illegal.

However, Tien believes, ride-hailing services can fill the gaps in the local transport sector. By legalizing them, the number of private vehicles on the road could be reduced and traffic congestion eased, he said.

Besides ride-hailing services, open data also holds the key for the city to move towards "smart transportation". Citizens can now access real-time traffic information via mobile apps such as Citymapper, which also helps users track bus and MTR services.

However, Gene Soo, general manager of Citymapper in Hong Kong, said the firm is unable to incorporate live traffic conditions from local bus companies into its data to provide more accurate estimates of bus arrival time.

“Hong Kong lags behind its global peers in taking action on open data,” Soo said.

He cites Singapore’s bus service sector as an example. The government buys back the city's bus services and assets, while the bus operators provide services under government contracts.

Under such an arrangement, all data on bus transportation is owned by the government, which in turn shares the information to the public, particularly to app developers.

There are more and better methods of collecting and updating traffic information. Dr. Winnie Tang, honorary professor of the Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong, suggests that the government collect mobile phone data of drivers and passengers anonymously to help transportation officials to analyze traffic flow during peak hours and formulate measures to reduce traffic congestion.

Citing the experience of other developed cities, Tang said the government could establish a spatial data sharing platform (CSDI) and enact an open data law.

In New York, the city government legislated that “all public data be made available on a single web portal by the end of 2018”, he said.

The full article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 15

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal