Hong Kong taxi drivers, operators rally to demand authorities step up action against illegal ride-hailing services such as Uber

More than 100 Hong Kong cabbies and taxi operators rallied on Friday to call for authorities to step up enforcement action against illegal ride-hailing services, while complaining “astronomical” insurance costs were driving them out of business.

The demonstration was organised by the Hong Kong Taxi Council, a leading alliance behind a citywide campaign to improve the service quality of the industry, which has about 40,000 active drivers for 17,834 licensed cabs.

Drivers and owners gathered outside the Legislative Council and held placards that said, “Illegal car hire service subject to no regulation” and “Astronomical insurance costs are unbearable”.

They accused authorities of being ineffective against Uber and other illegal ride-hailing services, resulting in unfair competition.

Ride-hailing businesses have been operating in a grey area in Hong Kong. Photo: Winson Wong

A taxi driver surnamed Cheng told the Post: “It’s really unfair, because they don’t have a licence, unlike us. You don’t even know if they can drive that well, or know the roads at all.”

He noted that people in Hong Kong could not apply for a taxi licence unless they had possessed a full driving licence for at least a year.

Taxi operators are required to pay for a designated licence worth millions of Hong Kong dollars to be able to run, while ride-hailing businesses have been operating in a grey area as those vehicles are deemed illegal without a hire-car permit.

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According to the Transport Department, last year there were 35 cases of vehicle seizures and licence suspensions for illegal ride-hailing services, the lowest since 2018. The figures for 2021 and 2020 were 91 and 44 respectively.

The council also complained that insurance premiums had risen almost tenfold in the past decade from around HK$10,000 to as high as HK$90,000, with an insurance excess ranging between HK$15,000 and HK$60,000.

“It is really an imbalance, the prices are astronomical,” said Ng Kwan-sing, vice-chairman of the council. “There is no way we can operate like this.”

According to the Insurance Authority, the average comprehensive insurance premiums rose from HK$33,902 in 2020 to HK$42,640 last year, marking a 25 per cent increase. Third-party insurance premiums increased 27 per cent on average between 2020 and 2022, rising from HK$26,189 to HK$33,477.


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Elderly taxi driver keeps his foot on the pedal as public debates over ageing drivers

An authority spokeswoman on Friday said the taxi insurance business had recorded underwriting losses in 12 out of the past 18 years, reaching a cumulative HK$344 million.

“This implies mismatching of the risks underwritten and the premium levels, which is not conducive to the sustainable development of the market in the long run,” she said.

Traffic accidents involving taxis hovered around 4,000 annually between 2018 and 2022, according to Transport Department statistics, without showing an obvious trend.

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Paul Law Siu-hung, chairman of the International Professional Insurance Consulting Association, attributed the high taxi premiums to the perceived higher likelihoods of accidents.

He said taxis operated around the clock without standard routes. The vehicles could be shared by multiple drivers who were frequently older residents. He also said drivers often faced more distractions from multiple mobile phones being set up by the steering wheel.

A Legco document from 2020-21 said the rise of champerty – when a person funds a case to win a portion of the compensation – was a contributing factor in the steep increase in insurance premiums for taxis.

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Friday’s protest was the taxi operators’ latest salvo in their long-running battle to curb ride-hailing services, which they accuse of robbing their business at a time when the trade has been criticised for poor service and the bad attitude of some drivers.

In a reply to Post on Friday night, the Transport and Logistics Bureau said it would continue to adopt a multipronged approach, including enforcement, education and publicity, to combat the illegal use of vehicles for hire or taking customers.

Additional reporting by Wynna Wong


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