The long-awaited opening of southern China’s 55km bridge between Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau is set to trigger a lucrative boost in business for many firms, but opinion among cabbies was mixed on the benefits it will bring the local taxi industry.
Some cabbies expressed a dim view of the multibillion-dollar project on Thursday morning as about 80 conducted a trial run on taxi facilities at the bridge’s Hong Kong immigration port, built on an artificial island off Lantau Island.
The trial was the third round of exercises for Hong Kong taxi drivers in preparation for the bridge’s opening, which is expected before the end of the year. According to participants, the past two rounds saw problems with insufficient shelter at taxi stands and flaws with queue ticket machines.
The massive bridge will put the three cities within an hour’s drive of one another. The cities’ governments expect it to generate substantial economic benefits by boosting the integration of the Pearl River Delta region.
But vice-chairman of the Association for Taxi Industry Development Ng Kam-wah poured cold water on the purported benefits for Hong Kong taxis, saying the journey between the bridge port and Hong Kong International Airport was only about 10 minutes, meaning profit margins on trips would be thin.
“At a fare of about HK$45 (US$5.75), the journey is shorter than I expected,” Ng said.
Travellers heading to the city centre would choose to take a cross-border coach directly from their origin outside Hong Kong rather than transferring to a taxi mid-journey, he added.
“My personal view is that the bridge is not really attractive for Hong Kong taxis,” Ng said. “For urban taxis, they can’t compete with cross-border coaches. For taxis aiming at short-haul business, the journey is too short to create a good profit margin.”
But Taxi Dealers and Owners Association chairman Ng Kwan-sing was more confident, saying cabbies could cash in by ferrying mainland Chinese travellers to the airport.
“At present there are not a lot of international flights on the mainland and delays and cancellations are very common. Many mainlanders prefer to take an international flight from Hong Kong. The bridge will create a bigger market,” he said.
He argued short-haul trips did not necessarily mean a thin profit margin, as the queuing arrangement at the port using a token machine would enable a faster turnaround for drivers.
“The taxis will get a token when travelling to a nearby destination. As long as they return to the Hong Kong port within 40 minutes with the same token, they will be able to queue at the front for another passenger,” Ng said.
Beijing authorities have yet to announce when the bridge will open. Hong Kong has invested about HK$120 billion in the project. Construction was delayed by two years.