In a previous post I mentioned that I should tell you about Hong Kong’s taxis; in short they are uniquely awkward and confusing. On the other hand they are incredibly cheap. My favourite thing about Hong Kong taxis is the phones on the dashboard; drivers will have, on average, four phones mounted on their dashboard which they will operate throughout your journey, even while travelling at speed on the motorway. Fewer than four phones suggests that your driver is something of an amateur. I have seen as many as six phones plus a paper notepad mounted above the steering wheel, almost entirely blocking the driver’s view of the road.
The first thing you need to know is that taxis come in three colours; blue, green and red. I’ve only ever been in a blue one once or twice, they are only allowed to operate on Lantau Island. It’s a large area and close to the airport. But it is sparsely populated and the blue taxis are not allowed to leave the island and take you elsewhere else. There are only fifty blue taxis.
The green ones are a little more useful. They can take you anywhere in the New Territories, a huge area taking up the whole north of Hong Kong and containing several large towns. But the green taxis are not allowed to take you to Hong Kong Island or Kowloon, where most jobs and businesses are based.
The red ones serve Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, but don’t go where the green taxis or blue taxis go and are a little more expensive. There are two types of red taxi, some serve Kowloon and will refuse to cross the harbour to Hong Kong Island (a five minute drive) some serve Hong Kong Island and will refuse to cross the harbour to Kowloon. There is a way to tell the two types of red taxi apart, but I have never worked out what it is.
I have had taxi drivers refuse to take me because the journey is too short and not worth their while and because the journey is too long and will take too much time. I’ve also had them tell me:
“You’ll have to get out here, I have lunch plans”
“I’m not going that way, but I can take you somewhere else instead”
“I can’t take you there because I don’t know the way back”
It’s totally illegal for the driver to act like this, but probably a direct consequence of the economic pressure placed on them by the city’s taxi licensing system. There are 18,138 taxi licenses in Hong Kong. The majority of these licenses are owned by investors who rent their license and car to drivers on a shift basis. The licenses change hands for millions of dollars and the cost is passed to the drivers, who pay up to $800 a day to drive the car. So the drivers become very selective about which fares they accept.
Raising fares would take this pressure off the drivers, but wouldn’t solve the problem of the price bubble around the taxi licenses. And it seems that the license owners have sufficient political clout to make sure that the price bubble won’t be burst by the introduction of new licenses.
It’s a good thing I enjoy walking.