Armed with information on 800 alleged illegal ride-hailing cases, Hong Kong’s disgruntled taxi drivers are preparing to step up their fight against Uber with a series of large-scale actions.
In a joint letter to the industry, the Motor Transport Workers General Union and the Taxi Drivers & Operators Association have called for 300 cabbies to join a protest planned for January 15 at the Chief Executive’s Office in Admiralty.
The two taxi groups declared that, through undercover operations over the past few months, they had uncovered about 800 cases of Uber drivers illegally plying their trade, and reported 100 of them to police.
The organisations plan to submit the 800 cases to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and the Executive Council before marching to the Department of Justice to call for immediate prosecution in the 100 reported cases and prompt police investigations into the rest.
They threatened to escalate their fight into a citywide protest if the government did not respond to their call within a week.
“Since Uber has entered Hong Kong’s market, the income of taxi drivers has dropped drastically. It’s time for us to kick Uber out from Hong Kong,” the letter read.
“We will demand that the chief executive give us a response within one week … if there is no response after that, we may escalate our actions to the whole industry to protest against the government’s inaction for strangling the taxi industry.”
Association chairman Wong Yat-fung said the groups would hold a press conference at a later date to confirm the details of their actions.
“The illegal ride-hailing companies are like a ticking time bomb to road safety because they are unregulated, without hire-car permits,” he said.
“The taxi industry is facing daunting challenges because many taxi drivers have switched to working for these illegal firms … We need to address this problem.”
A police spokeswoman said officers were following up on a referral from a transport industry organisation on about 100 cases of illegal carriage of passengers for hire or reward.
“A police investigation is ongoing, and prosecution action will be taken if there is sufficient evidence,” she said.
Uber has struggled to get a break in Hong Kong, where a population of more than 7 million is served by 18,163 licensed taxis and about 40,000 drivers. The government has stood firm in cracking down on Uber despite calls from the Consumer Council to legalise ride-hailing services.
In July last year, 28 Uber drivers were convicted and fined for illegal carriage, following a landmark court ruling in March 2017 that concluded there was no significant difference between Uber drivers and pirate taxis known locally as pak pai. Five other drivers were consequently fined HK$10,000 (US$1,275) each and banned from the road for a year, in the first convictions of their kind in Hong Kong.
However, the beleaguered taxi industry is grappling with an ageing workforce and a bad reputation due to mounting complaints over the conduct of cabbies, who have been accused of overcharging, taking unnecessarily long routes and cherry-picking or refusing fares.
A source familiar with the situation said that in recent months some Uber drivers had been summoned by police for investigations about their ride-hailing operations, but no further action had been taken against them.
“I don’t think the Uber drivers are easily deterred by police investigations or undercover activities by the industry. They are well aware of the legal risks before they work for the firm,” the source said.