Lawmakers have proposed a centralised cloud of taxi dashcam footage to combat fraud and prevent taxi drivers withholding incriminating footage of their accidents.
Frankie Yick Chi-ming, transport-sector lawmaker and transport panel chairman, made the proposal in a meeting to discuss registration of taxi drivers and how to reduce insurance premiums for the trade. At issue is the soaring rate of insurance premiums for taxis, which now account for around 50% of the rental cost.
“There are 9,000 taxi owners for over 26,000 taxis in Hong Kong. We are talking about some of the black sheep in the taxi drivers pool, they are pushing up the premiums, so it’s unfair to the well-behaved drivers,” said Yick.
Yick’s proposal would see a more “uniform standard” for the use of dashcams. “The interests of the taxi owners are not protected with the mere use of dashcams,” he said. “A centralised cloud database for the tapes might be more useful.”
Joyce Lau, Councillor with the lobby group General Insurance Council, said it was a good suggestion. “We are exploring this possibility,” she said. “We always want to secure better footage of the dashcams, we want to better protection for the road users and for our business.”
The meeting also revealed the patchy record of the taxi trade in keeping tabs on who was actually driving a taxi at any given time.
Taxi owners are charged a flat insurance rate, with no discounts or penalties for hiring good or bad drivers because owners, it emerged, generally don’t know who is driving their cabs.
“The main point is, the taxi trade does not have the habit of providing information of relevant taxi drivers to the insurers, they don’t know how to do that because they don’t know who are the drivers,” said Yick.
“There is still some difficulty in ascertaining who was driving the taxi, and without clear identities of drivers there will be difficulties in correctly assigning the burden of insurance” he said.
Yick said there were some other proposed solutions, including an electronic licensing system as a way to ID who was driving a taxi at any one time and, as proposed by lawmakers, a database of drivers including conviction and accident record.
But Hong Kong Island lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said taxi drivers were quite reluctant to join databases and have cameras in place. “Before 1997 even, when you asked them to put their licences on the front of the vehicles, they were reluctant,” she said, proposing the government should consider surveying taxi drivers about their wishes before acting on the ideas presented at the meeting.
Lawmaker Chan Kin-por said the government should take responsibility for the proposed accident database, a system which worked well in Singapore and UK. “It is much more effective for a government to operate such a database,” he said. “It can benefit taxi owners, they can check the details, whether the taxi driver has a very clean record or not.”
Yick agreed. “It should be something from the government rather than set up by a voluntary body of the insurance profession.”
Ratings and technology can upgrade service: Uber
Ridesharing company Uber said it was “encouraging to see the government and Legislative members are looking into ways to improve the taxi industry’s service quality.”
In 2014 it was revealed Uber in the US would fire drivers whose ratings dipped below 4.6. Back then, the firm said “deactivating the accounts of the drivers who provide consistently poor experiences ensures that Uber continues to be known for quality.”
Today, Uber Hong Kong’s General Manager Estyn Chung told Transit Jam that technology held the answer. “Our platform shows that technology improves service quality, and at the same time, increases earnings. Our mutual rating system ensures both drivers and riders respect each other. Also, it means both drivers and riders have access to help and provide feedback directly to the Uber customer support team. Taxi drivers we work with tell us this helps with improving the industry’s reputation,” he said.
In response to lawmakers debate, the Insurance Authority (IA) said there was no “quick fix”.
“It takes time, even if the insurance sector is cooperative, it takes time for the database to be enriched,” said Simon Lam, Executive Director, General Business, of IA.
Lam said IA would discuss the matter with the privacy commissioner and generally supported the idea of a database of drivers, accidents and convictions.
Frankie Yick said the industry shouldn’t hold its breath for immediate change. “If you expect THB [Transport and Housing Bureau] to amend legislation you have to wait for a long time,” he told lawmakers at the meeting.