More licenses could lie ahead for ride-hailing services

Wallis Wang

The government may issue more permits for drivers providing online ride-hailing services, sources said, as the current 1,500 hire car permits cannot cover over 10,000 Uber drivers in the city.

This came after the Transport and Logistics Bureau said in a document submitted to the Legislative Council’s transport panel on Monday that it would study Hongkongers’ demand for point-to-point transportation in a year to set a quota for legal online hailing cars.

Government sources said the authorities may consider increasing the quota for hire car permits after learning about the latest social demands. But it will not issue too many licenses at once to avoid “drowning the market.”

But it is understood that some lawmakers believe ride-hailing platforms would not survive if the government decides to regulate them with hire car permits, as many Uber drivers are freelancers and should not be subject to the same licensing and insurance requirements as other full-time taxi drivers.

The sources said the government will regulate online ride-hailing platforms while combating illegal carriage of passengers with a “quick fix” approach.

Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung urged the government to carry out the two moves at the same time.

He explained that if authorities step up law enforcement on illegal carriage of passengers without providing an alternative, there would be other illegal acts emerging. But an Uber driver told The Standard that he is worried he might lose his job as a ride-hailing vehicle license will only be issued to vehicles that cost over HK$600,000, which his car does not.

He said the limited number of hire car permits might make Uber become a high-end transport service and taxis could become a more affordable option for passengers.

Speaking in a radio program yesterday, Roundtable lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said he supported the regulation of online ride-hailing services, but urged the government to significantly increase the license quota allowing private cars to carry passengers for hire.

”If the government adopts a ‘one size fits all’ approach when regulating the platformsthe number of cars offering online ride-hailing services will drop sharply, sparking social controversy,” he said. The government should issue at least 4,000 to 5,000 hire car licenses to private cars at first and consider issuing the licenses on a first-come first-served basis, he added.

The authorities could require the cars to install surveillance cameras and set up a complaint mechanism, he said.

The price of a taxi license has risen by HK$10,000 to HK$2.81 million after the bureau proposed that drivers who carry passengers illegally could have their licenses revoked for a year.

Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association chairman Chow Kwok-keung said the government has made sufficient efforts to combat illegal carriage of passengers, which is beneficial to the taxi sector.

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