LCQ16: Hire car service
Some members of the transport trade have relayed to me that in recent years, some merchants have lured owners and drivers of private cars not issued with a hire car permit into engaging in illegal carriage of passengers for reward (commonly known as "white licence cars' service") and enticed passengers to use such service by offering concessions. Online platforms, bus-stops, etc. abound with advertisements for recruiting drivers to provide, and soliciting passengers to use, such white licence cars' service. Also, such service is named "car pooling", "group transport service" etc. in an attempt to evade regulation. The trade members have also pointed out that the third party risks insurance for the vehicles involved in such service may be rendered invalid as a result of their being used illegally for the carriage of passengers, causing passengers using such service and other road users to be deprived of protection. In addition, such service is undermining the interests of public transport service operators, which are operating legally. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether the Government proactively investigated the aforesaid online and bus-stop advertisements in the past three years; if so, of the outcome; whether it took measures to clamp down on the placing of such advertisements; if so, of the details and effectiveness of such measures; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) of the measures in place to remind members of the public about the lacking of protection in using white licence cars' service, including the fact that the third party risks insurance for the vehicles concerned may have become invalid, and that such service is not subject to monitoring whereas it is the case for public transport services, and hence passengers dissatisfied with the service will have no way to lodge a complaint; and
(3) of the law enforcement actions taken by the Government in the past three years to clamp down on white licence cars' service; whether it will step up such law enforcement actions; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether it will consider amending the legislation to raise the penalties for the relevant offences?
My consolidated reply to the various parts of the Hon Frankie Yick's question is as follows.
Under section 52(3) of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374), no person shall drive or use a private car; or suffer or permit a private car to be driven or used, for the carriage of passengers for hire or reward unless a hire car permit is in force in respect of the vehicle. Otherwise, it is an offence. In addition, section 52(5) of the said Ordinance stipulates that no person shall solicit or attempt to solicit any person for hire or reward to travel in a private car.
The Government has been closely monitoring the use of smartphone applications (apps) or online platforms by drivers and passengers to book hire car services as well as the use of private cars for the illegal carriage of passengers for reward, including relevant advertisements on the Internet and other platforms, as well as media reports. Where suspected cases of illegal carriage have been identified, the Transport Department (TD) will refer them to the Police for follow-up action. In the past three years, the TD referred to the Police a total of 79 cases of suspected use of private cars for the illegal carriage of passengers for reward. Seven of these cases involved advertisements for such service on the Internet or through other means, and media promotion of suspected use of private cars for the illegal carriage of passengers for reward.
The Police will gather intelligence, investigate and follow up on the referral and complaint cases received. They will also seek legal advice from the Department of Justice and take prosecution action as necessary. In the past three years, the Police took enforcement actions against 38 cases of use of private cars for the illegal carriage of passengers for reward. The Police will continue to keep in view the use of private cars not issued with a valid hire car permit for the illegal carriage of passengers for hire or reward through platforms such as smartphone apps. The Police will also step up enforcement actions to combat such offences.
An offender who uses a private car for the illegal carriage of passengers for reward, or who solicits or attempts to solicit any person to travel in a private car used for the illegal carriage of passengers for reward, is liable to a fine of $5,000 and three months' imprisonment on the first conviction. The licence of the subject vehicle will also be suspended for three months. On the second or subsequent conviction, the person is liable to a fine of $10,000 and six months' imprisonment. For subsequent offence in respect of the same motor vehicle, the licence of that vehicle will be suspended for six months. We consider the existing legislation carries sufficient deterrent effect, and do not have any plan for legislative amendment at this stage. The Government will continue to closely monitor the related prosecution figures and the use of private cars for the illegal carriage of passengers for reward, and will timely review the penalties for the related offences where necessary.
Apart from taking active enforcement action by the Police, the Government also attaches great importance to publicity and education. In this connection, the TD has been making efforts through various channels, including broadcasting announcements of public interest on radio, displaying samples of hire car permits on the department's website, and putting up posters in public places. These efforts mainly aim to further educate the public that when they use hire car service, they should ensure the private car concerned is issued with a valid hire car permit; and the ways to identify such vehicle. In the publicity materials, the TD has also reminded the public that the third party insurance for a private car engaging in illegal hire car service may no longer be valid. Members of the public who intend to use hire car service should enquire with the service operator to ascertain whether a hire car permit has been issued in respect of the private car concerned and check the permit's validity before the journey starts.
Ends/Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:30
Issued at HKT 15:30