Hong Kong’s taxi industry has launched a ride-hailing app to compete with established providers such as Uber. Last month Taxi Council chairman Dr Hung Wing-tat declared: “Whatever Uber can do, we’ll do it better. Whatever Uber cannot do, we can.”
eTaxi, backed by the city’s leading cab companies, was launched on April 16 and has so far signed up about 4,000 drivers, according to Hung.
The Post last Thursday put Uber, eTaxi and Fly Taxi through an experiment to see how each fared. Here’s what we found:
Test of the taxis
Three reporters, Sum Lok-kei, Martin Choi and Edmund So, tried to hail rides from the same pick-up point to the same destination simultaneously on three different occasions – 3pm, 5pm and 7pm. The apps they used were:
eTaxi – backed by the Taxi Council, its developers say the app can be used to hail red, green or blue taxis in urban areas, the New Territories and Lantau Island respectively.
Uber – arrived in Hong Kong in 2014 but was soon outlawed by local authorities. It nevertheless continues to operate in all parts of Hong Kong. The company refused to disclose how many drivers it had in the city.
Fly Taxi – launched in 2015, the app is owned by the company of the same name. It claims to have some 50,000 drivers, who pay monthly or annual fees.
The Post’s first two tests involved cross-harbour trips and the last one a short route on Hong Kong Island. The three reporters called for a ride at the same time, then compared the response time, price and time taken to get to the destination.
Trip 1: Times Square in Causeway Bay to The One in Tsim Sha Tsui at 3pm
This is a roughly 5.5km cross-harbour journey from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon that can be tricky to pin down a driver for because many dislike making the crossing, especially around 4pm when many cabbies change shifts and have to park their cars at specific locations.
Response: Uber responded first within one minute, and took nine minutes to arrive at the pick-up point. Fly Taxi took five minutes to respond and arrived 13 minutes later. eTaxi did not respond, even though Choi tried twice over an hour and promised a tip of HK$20.
Price: Fly Taxi was cheaper at HK$91.80, compared with Uber at HK$97.30.
Time: Uber and Fly Taxi both took exactly 36 minutes to complete the journey.
Trip 2: Times Square in Causeway Bay to The One in Tsim Sha Tsui at 5pm
This is the peak travel hour, notorious for traffic jams at the city’s cross-harbour tunnels.
Response: Uber responded first, and arrived in eight minutes – 10 minutes earlier than Fly Taxi. Again, eTaxi did not respond over 30 minutes, even with another offer of a HK$20 tip.
Price: The Uber ride, via the Western Harbour Tunnel, cost HK$244, almost twice the HK$114 fare from Fly Taxi, which went through the cheaper Cross-Harbour Tunnel linking Wan Chai and Hung Hom. But both the Uber and Fly Taxi drivers asked their riders which tunnel they preferred.
Time: Both journeys took well over half an hour – longer than it takes to complete a similar cross-harbour journey, from Causeway Bay to Tsim Sha Tsui, on the MTR.
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Trip 3: Central to Western district at 7pm
The last ride was the shortest at around 2km, from Des Voeux Road Central in the city’s financial district to Pok Fu Lam Road in Sai Ying Pun. Passengers in Hong Kong often complain about cabbies shying away from short journeys, as the fares are lower.
Response: Only Uber responded. The driver arrived in five minutes. Fly Taxi did not respond, and the order expired after eight minutes. Here too, eTaxi did not get back despite a HK$10 tip being offered.
Price: The Uber fare was HK$65.
Time: It took 11 minutes.
What we found
Uber responded fastest each time – almost instantly in two out of the three tests. However, in general it cost more than Fly Taxi, although direct comparisons were not possible where different cross-harbour tunnels were used.
eTaxi was a no-show in all three tests.
The two cross-harbour journeys took between 36 and 51 minutes, including the wait for the cars, and cost between HK$91.80 and HK$224.
The MTR would cost HK$12.30 with an Octopus card and take about 10 minutes, according to the company’s website. For shorter rides on Hong Kong Island, it might be best to check if there is a bus or tram going your way.
Told of the experiment’s outcome, Hung said drivers were still getting used to the new app, and the platform had not yet fully implemented a reward scheme for those willing to pick up riders for short journeys.
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“It is hard to solve the issue of drivers cherry-picking fares,” Hung said. The situation may continue “for a while”, he added.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, who is licensed to drive a taxi, said the difference in response times could be explained by the different business models of the firms.
Unlike Uber, taxi drivers can pick up passengers at the roadside, meaning there may be fewer cabbies using mobile apps.
The lawmaker added that Uber drivers did not know the destinations of their passengers until they boarded the car, meaning they were unable to be selective.
More changes are coming for the taxi industry with the government set to table a bill at the Legislative Council next month to introduce 600 premium “franchised taxis”. The authorities plan to grant three five-year franchises, each with a 200-vehicle fleet.
On top of promising better services, the franchises must allow passengers to hail taxis with mobile apps, a government document submitted to Legco on Wednesday read.