Taxicabs of Hong Kong
Taxis of Hong Kong provide a taxi system. Most taxis are independently owned and operated, but some are owned by taxi companies, and the drivers are employees.
As of 2003, there were 18,138 taxis in Hong Kong, of which 15,250 were urban taxis, 2,838 were New Territories taxis, and 50 were Lantau taxis. Every day they serve about 1.1 million, 207,900 and 1,400 people respectively.
During the early colonial times, sedan chairs were the only form of public conveyance. Public chairs were licensed, and charged according to tariffs which would be prominently displayed. Chair stands were found at all hotels, wharves, and major crossroads, and the sturdy chair bearers would clamour for regular patronage.
Much the same as motor cars nowadays, private chairs existed, and were an important marker of a person's status. A Civil officer's status was denoted by the number of bearers attached to his chair.
Their numbers peaked in about 1920, when 1,215 registered sedan chairs were on the road.
The rickshaw was first imported from Japan in 1870 by an American businessman. They were a popular form of transport for many years, peaking at more than 7,000 in the early part of the 20th century. Rickshaws competed with sedan chairs for customers depending on their budget, haste, or terrain to be negotiated. The rickshaw was more rapid, but was not suited to climbing the steep terrain of Hong Kong Island. Before Hong Kong's Peak Tram went into service in 1888, wealthy residents of The Peak were carried on sedan chairs by coolies up the steep paths to their residence, including former Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell's summer home, where they could take advantage of the cooler climate.
However, the popularity of rickshaws waned after World War II. No new licenses for rickshaws have been issued since 1975, and licenses became non-transferable. Thus, a dying breed of only a few old men still ply their trade at the Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, mainly for tourists. The rickshaw drawers charged HK$300 to go around the block. There were about eight in 1998, and only four left in 2002, and two in 2011.
The last sedan chair was reportedly abandoned in 1965, and since the relocation of the Central Star Ferry pier at the end of 2006 the rickshaws have disappeared.
The Chinese name for taxi (的士),pronounced 'dik si' is a Cantonese transliteration of "taxi". The earliest pioneer of the modern taxi service may have been Wu Zung (胡忠). In 1941, he is believed to have owned 40 taxis including 10 white cards, which he leased to the government. When the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong began in December of the same year, he suspended his transport operation. He resumed his business after the war with 100 cars.
The service was first officially recorded by the government in 1947 with 329 cars. By 1960 the service officially covered the New Territories, and the service increased to 1,026 cars. The number of taxis would multiply to 10,000 by 1980.
Prior to 1974, livery of taxis in Hong Kong were based on the operator/owners. The standardisation was necessary to weed out illegal taxis.
The taxi trade is regulated by the Government, as are the fare scales. Taxis need a license to operate in Hong Kong. The government stopped issuing licenses in 1994, when there were a total of 18,138 in the territory. Existing licenses are transferable, and are traded on the open market, which is rising steeply. The going cost for a license is around HK$5 million.
The service area of the three types of taxis are defined by the Government in the 1960s. The need for the three different types was to avoid clustering of taxis in the more populated/profitable areas of the territory, and a shortage in others. All three types of taxis serve Hong Kong International Airport and The Disneyland Resort.
- Urban taxi
The red taxis have the highest fares among all, and serve all areas of New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. They may also run Tung Chung (Lantau), the Airport at Chek Lap Kok (Lantau) and Disneyland, but are not permitted to run the rest of Lantau Island. These taxis can only carry passengers in the Lantau or New Territories areas if the passengers are returning to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island, or must return to their service areas themselves to continue their business. A taxi will sometimes appear with its roof light on, but with the 'For Hire' flag covered by an 'Out of Service' sign; this means they are attempting to catch a fare back across the harbour tunnel.
There is no legal requirement for drivers to know all the destinations in their allowed area. Commonly, drivers refuse to take passengers wanting to cross the harbour on this basis, although in theory drivers do not have the right to refuse a hire based on destination. On both sides of the harbour, the Government has erected taxi ranks catering for those returning taxis prepared to cross the harbour for a single-toll trip.
- New Territories taxi
The green taxis, the second most expensive, serve only parts of the New Territories, including Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, Fanling, Sheung Shui, Pak Tam Chung, Tai Po, West of Ting Kau and North of Chuen Lung, except Lantau Island, Tsang Tai Uk, Sai Kung, Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi. They are allowed to serve the taxi stands at Prince of Wales Hospital, Hin Keng Neighbourhood Community Centre, Chak On Estate, HKUST, Tseung Kwan O Hospital, Hang Hau Station, Tsing Yi Station and Tsuen Wan Station, which are designated interchange with red taxis. Although they serve the Airport and Disneyland, they do not serve Tung Chung and the rest of Lantau.
- Lantau taxi
The blue taxis run exclusively on southern Lantau Island, Tung Chung, the Airport and Disneyland, thus they are restricted to a small area. They are not quite as ubiquitous: there are only around 50 of them. There have been reports of some unofficial, unlicensed taxis in blue livery operating around these regions.
Each taxi has a light on top of the vehicle which is illuminated when the taxi is available for hire. A "flag" visible on top of the dash board marked "for hire" also indicates a taxi is available.
A fare table must be displayed clearly inside the taxi, by law. The same legally-enforceable fare table is also listed on the government's website. Fares are charged according to distance travelled and waiting time, measured by a meter on board. There are surcharges for luggage and tolled tunnels and bridges, as well as surcharges for telephone-arranged ordering. Along some restricted kerbs, there are designated pick-up and drop-off points exclusively for taxis. Some taxi operators will offer (illegal) discounts to attract repeat business.
In July 2007, it was reported that many taxi drivers were engaged in rampant illegal price-cutting in their competition with call-cab drivers for passengers. Rates offered were up to 20% lower than the metered fares on long-distance trips, with competition being particularly fierce on the airport route. The warring factions took turns to blockade Hong Kong International Airport to air their grievances. Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel, proposed cutting taxi fares to deal with illicit discounting. Representatives of call-cab drivers and taxi owners were opposed to the idea. Urban taxi groups have been lobbying for permission to impose a HK$1 per trip fuel surcharge when the price of liquefied petroleum gas per litre is between HK$3.10 and HK$4. Legislative Councillors unanimously passed a motion urging the government to allow taxis to impose the surcharge. However, the vote was non-binding on the Government. The Transportation Secretary rejected the appeal.
Historically, Standard, DeSoto Deluxe, Morris Oxford, Hillman Minx, Austin Cambridge, Mercedes W120 Ponton, Ford Anglia and Vauxhall Velox were used up to the 1960s. Since the 1970s, Japanese cars replaced the various European models used earlier. Among them, the Toyota Crown Comfort YXS10 and Nissan Cedric Y31 had always been the most popular.
All taxis bear a semi-circular green plate on the front grille, and at the back of the vehicle indicating the number of seats available. Throughout history, most Hong Kong taxis have been 4-door saloons with bench seats in the front, thus allowing it to carry up to five passengers (driver excluded). In the early 1980s, 4-passenger taxis were introduced. Smaller saloons such as the Nissan Bluebird 910, Nissan Sunny B12, Toyota Corona (CT141) and the Mitsubishi Lancer were used. However, these were all phased out by mid-1990s. Since then and until 2008, all Hong Kong taxis have been 5-passengers vehicles. But from 2008, the new Toyota Comfort is equipped with floor shift automatic instead of column shift automatic, making the new Comfort a 4-passengers taxi again.
Australian Ford Falcon estate cars tried to enter the market in year 2000 but it was never popular.
On 29 May 2007, there were reports that plans are afoot to introduce the LTI-licensed, Chinese Geely-manufactured, LPG-powered TX4 London Black Cabs into the Hong Kong taxi service market. A feasibility study is under way between the Hong Kong Productivity Council and Geely.
All taxis are imported new, there is a type approval process for approving the models of cars to be used as taxis (which means unapproved models cannot be used as taxis). However, used parts of Japan are frequently used. So sometimes there are Japanese stickers on the taxis doors.
Most importers just import red color base cars. For green and blue taxis, the owners have to convert the cars into the correct color, and they usually only paint the exterior, and people can still see the original red color from the door gap or engine compartment.
Until the late 1990s, all Hong Kong taxis ran on diesel fuel, aside from 4-passenger taxis which ran on petrol. In 1996, a few taxis that ran on LPG appeared as part of the government's test project for alternative fuel. This project proved successful, leading to all new taxis being factory-built LPG since 1999. To speed up the replacement of diesel taxis with LPG ones, from mid 2000 to the end of 2003, the government offered a cash grant to each taxi owner who purchased a new LPG taxi during that period. Since 1 August 2001, no more diesel taxis were allowed to be imported into Hong Kong, and from 1 January 2006, driving a diesel taxi on the streets of Hong Kong became illegal. Therefore all taxis in Hong Kong are currently running on LPG. Although LPG-powered vehicles are supposed to be relatively non-polluting, and do indeed reduce roadside pollution, a 2007 study by Polytechnic University indicated that older LPG taxis emitted at least double the amount of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons compared to diesel. But the government still claimed that properly maintained LPG engines reduce pollution by 50% to 200%.
A taxi may have an 'Out of Service' sign on whenever the taxi is not available for hire, e.g., shift-changing. Passengers aren't allowed to hire a taxi displaying an 'Out of Service' sign. Taxi drivers may continue to have a lit roof sign and 'For Hire' flag up if they are looking for customers wishing to head to areas in their service (e.g. an urban taxi in the New Territories, looking for fares heading to the urban area).
One form of operations is that the taxi is operated as a shared taxi. In late night a taxi is operated over long distances whilst the driver only drives off when the cab is fully loaded. In turn the cab driver charges a fare that is lower than the prescribed fare that would appear on the taxi meter. The passengers wait aboard the cab until it is fully loaded, and they may not necessarily know each other on the trip.
While this form of taxi operation is legal under the laws of Hong Kong, the driver could be falling foul to the law if he / she charges a fare different from the one on the taxi meter.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Taxis in Hong Kong.|
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- A Hong Kong Sedan Chair, Illustrations of China and Its People, John Thomson 1837–1921, (London,1873–1874)
- Nury Vittachi, Riding out the rickshaw days, The Standard, 28 March 1998
- Kai Peter Yu, The way it was in those balmy days, The Standard, 30 January 1999
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- Damon Pang, "Fare-cuts call for taxis hits skids", The Standard, 23 July 2007
- Nickkita Lau, "Taxi fuel surcharge drive shot down", The Standard, 31 October 2007
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