Hong Kong ‘unlikely to crack down on Uber’ until premium taxi fleets hit the streets next year

But an insider said authorities were not considered increasing the number of the permits for now.

Lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan said his understanding was that the government wanted to first focus on improving service in the taxi sector by introducing the premium scheme. The fleets are expected to begin operating by the middle of next year.

“The government prefers to observe the effectiveness of the taxi scheme at the moment and will not make major changes to online ride-hailing services until it evaluates the premium taxi fleets,” Chan said.

He added it was not appropriate to make huge changes to both the taxi and online ride-hailing industries simultaneously.

Chan brushed aside concerns that any crackdowns on platforms such as Uber would affect the city’s competitiveness, arguing “the service of taxis is expected to improve in the near future”.

Lawmaker Kitson Yang Wing-kit also said the government had no exact timeframe in the short-term to officially begin regulating ride-hailing operators.

“I am worried that the services of taxis will deteriorate if their competitors such as Uber are demolished by the proposed regulations,” Yang said.

The premium taxi fleet scheme is expected to begin operating by the middle of next year. Photo: May Tse

Fellow legislator Gary Zhang Xinyu said that the government must increase the quota of private hire-car permits if it went ahead with the requirements, pointing to the size of the market for online ride-hailing services, which reflected the huge demand.

Currently, the government has a quota of 1,500 permits.

Marco Wan, a part time Uber driver in his forties, echoed the call and said it was not fair for the government to impose the rules without raising the cap on the number of permits.

“Authorities put emphasis on [protecting] the taxi industry while ignoring the trend of using online ride-hailing services all over the world,” Wan said.

He added that most cities, including those in mainland China, had adapted to using the services and Hong Kong should follow suit.

“The current hire-car permits are usually obtained by companies, while it is very difficult for individuals, including Uber drivers, to obtain them” Wan said, calling for the requirements to be loosened.

Uber driver Bill Ko, who has three years of experience, said the government’s proposal was “totally unfair” and favoured taxis despite the city’s free market economy.

He suggested the government could issue a new type of licence specifically for drivers on ride-hailing platforms.

Ko said he also expected some Uber drivers would simply stop working if the government pushed ahead with the proposed regulation.

There are currently five types of hire-car permits covering services for hotels, tours, private limousines, private cross-border limousines and regular private operators.

Only 1,115 private service hire-car permits have been issued as of 2021, according to the government.

In Hong Kong, it is illegal for drivers of private vehicles to accept paid customers without a hire-car permit, while ride-hailing platforms such as Uber are not regulated.

More than 216,000 drivers were registered on Uber and its Uber Taxi platform as of 2021, according to company data.

The Legislative Council is due to discuss the regulatory framework on Friday next week in a panel meeting.

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