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LCQ3: Taxi malpractices

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (December 5):


     It has been reported that incidents of taxi drivers overcharging taxi fares and robbing passengers of their luggage have happened in Hong Kong one after another recently.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council, in the past three years:

(a) of the respective numbers in each year of complaints received by the Government about taxi drivers allegedly overcharging taxi fares, tampering with taximeters (commonly known as "meters"), using non-compliant meters, refusing hire or selecting passengers, not taking the most direct route to the destination, as well as carrying at the same time a number of passengers who did not know each other and charging them individually (commonly known as "taxi pooling"); the number of cases reported to the Police involving taxi drivers robbing passengers of their luggage; and the percentage of tourists in the passengers involved in the aforesaid cases in each year;

(b) of the respective numbers of cases of taxi drivers being prosecuted for the aforesaid offences and convicted, together with the respective highest penalties imposed by the court in respect of offences of overcharging taxi fares, refusing hire, meter tampering and using non-compliant meters; and whether prosecutions have been instituted against taxi-drivers for robbing passengers of their luggage; if prosecutions have been instituted, of the relevant charges and judgements; and

(c) of the measures taken by the authorities to curb the aforesaid crimes committed by taxi drivers, so as to safeguard the reputation of Hong Kong's tourism industry; whether they will take more proactive measures in future to combat such crimes; if they will, of the specific details of such measures; if not, the reasons for that; whether the authorities will consider increasing penalties for offences such as overcharging taxi fares by taxi drivers, etc.; if not, of the reasons for that?



     Taxis play a key role in Hong Kong's public transport service network.  There are over 18,000 taxis in Hong Kong, with more than 57,000 taxi drivers.  In the first ten months of 2012, the average daily taxi patronage is about 0.9 million.

     The Government strives to maintain quality taxi service and combat malpractices.  We have a sound legal and regulatory regime: the Road Traffic Ordinance (the Ordinance) stipulates that overcharging, refusing hire, soliciting, failing to drive to destinations with the most direct practicable route and malpractices relating to the taximeters are illegal.  The Ordinance also stipulates clear penalty with deterrent effect, with the maximum penalty for the above offences being a fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for six months.  The Police take vigorous enforcement action to combat crime.  The Transport Department (TD) mainly refers complaints to taxi owners, urging them to remind drivers who rent their taxis to improve service standard.

     The Government also puts considerable effort in public education and publicity.  TD and the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) distribute information targeting different passenger groups on fares and telephone helplines via different channels.

     The Government has grave concern over the recent cases of suspected overcharging by taxi drivers and theft of passengers' baggage stored in the taxi boot.  The Government will take a serious stance against such malpractices and will not tolerate them.  The Police have already stepped up enforcement action to combat such illegal activities.  TD and HKTB have also enhanced publicity and public education to remind passengers to be on guard.

     My reply to the three parts of the question by Dr Hon Quat is as follows:

(a) and (b) Complaints received by the Transport Complaints Unit under the Transport Advisory Committee are about suspected cases of overcharging, refusing hire or selecting passengers, failure to drive to destination by the most direct practicable route, charging by the number of passengers rather than the taximeter (commonly known as "taxi pooling") and malpractices relating to the taximeter.  A total of 7,735 complaints were received in 2010, 8,559 in 2011, and 7,318 in 2012 up to October.  The majority of complaints are on refusing hire, failure to drive to destination by the most direct practicable route and overcharging.  A detailed breakdown of the complaints is at Annex I.  Cases involving complainants who claimed to be tourists account for about 14 per cent of the total complaints per year.

     Against these malpractices, the Police have initiated 1,620 prosecutions in 2010.  The figure is 1,557 in 2011 and 1,725 in 2012 up to October.  A detailed breakdown of the cases is at Annex II.

     According to the record of the Police, the highest fine imposed by the court from 2010 to October 2012 in respect of overcharging, refusing hire and taximeter-related offences was $4,000.  There was another case under which the driving licence of a taxi driver was suspended for eight months.

     On theft of passengers' luggage or belongings by taxi drivers, the Police have received a total of 19 reported cases in the first ten months of 2012 (with two cases reported by Hong Kong residents and 17 by Mainland tourists or foreigners).  The Police arrested a total of five taxi drivers in suspected connection with the above cases.  One of them was convicted in July and sentenced to five months' imprisonment.  Another one was convicted in September and sentenced to 100 hours of community service.  The Police do not have the relevant figures for 2010 and 2011.

(c) To redouble our effort in combating crimes involving taxis by unscrupulous persons, the relevant departments have stepped up their work in enforcement and publicity.  They have also strengthened the liaison with the tourism and taxi trades.

     On enforcement, the Police have in various police districts, particularly the Yau Tsim, Central and Airport Districts frequented by tourists, implemented targeted measures.  Key tasks are to strengthen patrols at black spots, launch intelligence-led operations and enhance publicity.  The Regional Crime Unit of Kowloon West, in collaboration with Traffic Kowloon West and the Yau Tsim Police District, has also conducted decoy operations at various black spots against malpractices such as overcharging and taximeter-related offences over the past few weeks.  Seven persons have been arrested so far.  The operations are still ongoing.  The Police have also set up dedicated telephone hotlines to facilitate reporting by the taxi trade and passengers respectively.  

     The Police attach great importance to the theft of passengers' luggage and belongings, and have referred them to Regional Crime Unit of Kowloon West for consolidated follow-up investigation.  There is currently no evidence to suggest that syndicate elements are involved in such cases.  However, the vast majority of the tourist victims cannot provide the Police with information such as the vehicle registration number of the taxi involved or the name of the driver, which makes the investigation all the more difficult.  The Police have strengthened specific enforcement actions, which include stepping up patrols at black spots and carrying out intelligence-led operations to combat such kind of crime.

     On publicity and public education:

(i) TD has already set up electronic display panels, information boards and large banners at major taxi stands and tourist spots with higher pedestrian flow.  Information on taxi fares as well as reference fares for journeying to major destinations is displayed;

(ii) TD has already printed additional leaflets with details on taxi fares, reference fares for journeying to and from major tourist locations as well as telephone helplines for distribution at the airport, border crossings and tourist spots.  TD will also work with the Police, Yau Tsim Mong District Council and taxi trade to launch publicity activities targeting taxi malpractices along Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui; and

(iii) The Police and HKTB disseminate "Advice to Visitors" via their websites.  Visitors are reminded to pay attention to the taxi driver identity plate displayed inside the taxi compartment, and to request from the driver a print-out fare receipt with the taxi registration number for follow-up when necessary.  HKTB will also enhance publicity in Mainland cities from where the majority of tourists come.

     According to the law, offences of suspected overcharging, refusing hire, soliciting and failing to drive to destination by the most direct practicable route, as well as those relating to taximeter are liable on conviction to a maximum penalty of a fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for six months.  The penalty has already carried deterrent effect.  The relevant departments will step up enforcement and publicity efforts against the recent taxi offences for precautionary purpose.  In addition, subject to the details of individual cases and the evidence obtained, the Police may consider charging suspected drivers with criminal offences which are liable to a heavier penalty, such as "Theft" and "Attempt Deception".  These offences, on conviction, are liable to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for ten years.

Ends/Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:57


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