Drivers caught using their cars to work for illegal ride-hailing apps such as Uber should have their vehicles seized the moment they are charged, the transport sector representative in Hong Kong’s legislature proposed on Monday.
Lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming made his comments after the government suggested increasing penalties for drivers who illegally carried passengers; the latest move in its attempt to curb the practice in the city.
Despite calls for Uber-like services to be legalised, using private cars in Hong Kong to provide taxi services without a hire car permit is against the law.
Speaking on a radio programme on Monday, Yick, a Liberal Party member, called the government’s proposal “better than nothing”, but doubted it would stop drivers from operating illegally.
On Friday, the government proposed doubling the maximum fine for first-time offenders to HK$10,000, with a fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,200) for subsequent convictions.
“Is a fine of HK$4,000 to HK$5,000 enough to deter those illegal drivers? I think not,” Yick said.
Between January 2015 and December 2018, police took action against 195 cases of illegal carriage of passengers, leading to 136 drivers being convicted in court.
Among 128 cases that involved a fine, half ranged from HK$1,000 to HK$2,000.
Officials have also suggested increasing the length of time a driver would lose their licence and car from three to six months on first conviction, and from six to 12 months for repeat offenders.
But there will be no change to the maximum jail time, which is three months for first offenders, and six months for others.
However, Yick said the government should also consider seizing a driver’s vehicle the moment they are charged with an offence, as a further deterrent against the practice.
He said there were four laws under which police could seize a vehicle if they believed it had been used in the commission of a crime, adding that the car could be returned after the trial if a driver was found innocent.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who appeared on the same programme, said tougher penalties would not address the issue, as only the drivers would be punished.
“But Uber and other unlicensed service providers will continue to exist,” Wan said.
Instead, Wan said the government should try to regulate the service, which is popular worldwide.
Uber operates in 60 countries and 400 cities around the globe, and was valued at as much as US$120 billion when it launched its IPO in December.
Both Wan and Yick are members of the Legislative Council’s transport panel, which is set to discuss the government’s proposal in a meeting on Friday.
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