Golden Week holiday period has come and gone and once again Lantau’s traffic network was hopelessly choked.
Visitors waited two hours or more in the Tung Chung taxi queue for a ride to South Lantau, the Apple Daily reports.
Rather than idle under the hot sun, some took one of the half-dozen seven-seater people carriers charging $400-$500 per vehicle to Po Lin Temple.
This is the kind of entrepreneurialism for which Hong Kong, prior to the food truck fiasco, was renowned. It is illegal, however, and the Transport Dept, instead of expressing concern about the tourists’ discomfort – not to mention the failure of its policies – has vowed to work with the police to hunt these criminals down.
The problem is the city’s taxi industry is dominated by the owners, who have paid up to HK$7 million for a red plate. David Webb estimates this fleet of creaky old Crown Comforts is worth HK$118 billion, and it is the government’s role to protect the financial well-being of this powerful interest group.
Hence the resistance to change. In ‘Asia’s world city,’ drivers are unable to receive payment in any form but cash and are untroubled by competition from ride sharing services.
Lantau’s problems are exacerbated by the limited road network and government’s determination to squeeze as many people as possible onto the island for leisure-making.
The choice is either limit the demand for transport or increase the supply.
We’re not going to cap the number of visitors, so let’s look at lifting transport capacity. In the medium term we might upgrade the Tung Chung-Tai O ferry service and add extra and bigger buses, but the obvious immediate fix would be to track down the owners of those seven-seaters and issue them holiday period permits.
For local residents, it’s not just Golden Week. The taxi and bus services are maxed out over most weekends, especially in the hotter months. If you’re a South Lantau resident needing to catch a weekend flight you’re better off begging a lift from your neighbour.
We wouldn’t be in this fix if the government hadn’t banned Uber and Didi services. Smart technologies are designed to provide the kind of flexibility to solve precisely these kinds of problems. When Golden Week rolls around again in October, you can bet the only change will be the Transport Dept inspectors trying to catch those providing a desperately-needed service.