Hong Kong Cabs Say Yes to AutoTaxi System?

Ketchum

“We want to go to somewhere….,” when I spoke in English or Mandarin to an mid-aged old driver last week, he couldn’t understand at all and asked me to get off the car. By living in Hong Kong for nearly one month, it seems that not all Hong Kong cab drivers use another language rather than Cantonese, and a common of drivers I found out when I take a cab in Hong Kong, a fast-paced society, they drive really fast.

Today, there are more than 18,000 registered taxis in Hong Kong with more than 50 taxi cab groups and associations. About 100 taxis have opted into a system that allows customers to pay with a credit card, as part of an effort to get the city’s cabs outfitted with cash-free systems – but it’s unclear whether the companies offering the system can persuade drivers to swallow the extra costs. One example is Autotoll. The company operates the electronic toll systems in Hong Kong, in partnership with Dah Sing Bank, is rolling out a voluntary program to equip Hong Kong’s taxis with GPS navigation systems, video surveillance, traffic broadcasts, a supposedly more-efficient dispatch system and credit-card payment machines. They hope its new dispatch system, which uses GPS to connect a driver with a customer, will entice drivers to eventually pay about 100 Hong Kong dollars (US$12.84) a month to use the system.

So far, many drivers are afraid the credit-card transactions will take up too much time and will eliminate tips and the rounding up of a fare to a whole dollar. Just five of his drivers have installed the system.

On top of the expected HK$100 monthly usage fee, taxi drivers will also likely have to pay a maintenance fee, to Dah Sing Bank, as is typical of most credit-card transactions. Visa, the sole credit-card company offered with this system, also takes a portion of each transaction. These fees have been waived until at least the end of the year, but maintenance fees for having a credit-card machine generally run around HK$165 a month. “The monthly fee and percentage the bank takes varies industry to industry and will be determined at a later date,”said John Lam, executive director of Dah Sing Bank.

“The government is remaining neutral on the issue of credit card payment, and there are no plans to make them compulsory for drivers,” said Eric Tam, a transport officer in Hong Kong’s Transport Department.

The AutoTAXI system includes a television screen on the seatback facing the passengers, which will feature short entertainment programs. Autotoll plans to sell advertising on the screens and give 20% of ad returns to the drivers, keeping the other 80%. This will generate “more than enough profit to cover the drivers’ fees,” for the AutoTAXI system says Owen Leung, senior business development manager of Autotoll. He expects the new system to be more popular among younger drivers and that many of the older drivers may be reluctant to adopt the new technology. “It’s not easy to change their habits,” he says.

There are currently about 240 taxis using Autotoll’s navigation and communication system on the roads, but only about 100 of them have the payment system installed. To advertise which taxis have the Visa option, the cabs have been given illuminated wings to place on their rooftops. However, the wings cause drivers to lose about five cents per kilometer in fuel efficiency, HK$20 a month.

Not only Autotoll and Dah Sing, Octopus Cards Limited is trying to update the taxi payment systems in Hong Kong as well.  The company running the ubiquitous electronic payment cards used in Hong Kong’s public transportation system has been trying implement its own system. In March, the company quietly started installing card readers in a few taxis. Currently, 30 cabs accept Octopus, and a spokesman said the company is working to expand.

About shaolinh

Shaoling Hsu holds a B.A. in Computer Science Studies from Taiwan and is currently a first-year M.A. candidate in the Communication Management program at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. She has traveled many countries, including China, Singapore, U.S. and Canada. She is proficient in Mandarin, Taiwanese, and fluent in English.
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