Plan for premium taxis in Hong Kong ditched after lawmakers decide they don’t have the time

Ng Kang-chung

A plan to upgrade Hong Kong’s taxi services by introducing a new class of premium taxi has been ditched after lawmakers studying the bill voted to stop their work, citing a lack of time.

The government expressed “deep regret” over the committee’s decision and said it would weigh public views when deciding whether to reintroduce the plan to the legislature.

At Monday’s meeting, most members of the committee on the franchised taxi services bill agreed it would be impractical to expect them to finish studying the bill before the current legislative term ends next month, and voted 7-1 to dissolve their committee.

Committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, of the Liberal Party, defended its slow progress. “Some of the scheduled meetings since the Lunar New Year had to be postponed because of the Covid-19 epidemic.”

It was only the second time since the 1997 handover that a Legislative Council bills committee ran out of time. On the previous occasion in 2000, the committee on a town planning bill was dismissed because it was unable to complete its work within the 1998-2000 term, despite meeting nine times.

Another committee has also considered stopping scrutiny on a bill banning the sale of electronic cigarettes. It is next expected to meet on Tuesday to decide its way forward.

The taxi bills committee was formed last June and had held four meetings since then.

The new law would have allowed some 600 premium taxis to be operated by three franchises, with services such as Wi-fi and phone-charging ports, and fares 50 per cent higher than that of a normal cab.

There was fierce opposition to the plan from some sections of the industry, with operators afraid it would affect the price of the licences they held, and result in a price war.

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As the bill has been dropped, the government would have to begin the legislative process all over again after September’s Legco elections if it still wanted the law to be passed.

“The franchised taxi proposal in the bill is the outcome of years of consultation with the trade and different stakeholders, which has struck a balance among various considerations,” the government said in a statement.

“The government still considers that the introduction of franchised taxis can meet the new demand in the community for personalised and point-to-point public transport services of higher quality with online hailing features.

“The government will take into account the views of the public and relevant circumstances when considering whether to reintroduce the bill into [the legislature] in the next Legco term.”

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