OTR ‘Off The Record’ is a new content form that we’re trying out where a member of the e27 team spouts off about any given topic relevant to the tech world without judgement.
Car-hailing apps connecting drivers of private cars with customers were banned in the southern Chinese mega city Shenzhen early this week, and this decision should cause at least slight eyebrow lifting concern for fans of ride-hiring services in neighbouring Hong Kong.
It was only last month that the Hong Kong office was raided during a crackdown on illegal taxis, and Uber drivers arrested.
Uber is generally more expensive than taxis in Hong Kong, but people still pay. The reason is simple. Taxi services in Hong Kong leave a lot to be desired, and the city needs Uber like Gotham needs Batman. Here are a few reasons why Hong Kong should embrace its Dark Knight Uber.
1. Taxis in Hong Kong operate on an archaic, cash-only system.
It is smart to check your cash situation prior to entering a cab? Of course. But it sure would be nice not to. It’s a valid first world gripe as in cities like New York, Seoul and Singapore, some taxis (not all, but most) at least have the ability to accept credit cards. At the very least, it would be helpful if taxis accepted Octopus cards. Although once I did offer, as barter, my Octopus card after realising I was a few dollars short.
2. Not speaking Cantonese makes it difficult to get to your location.
We’re in Hong Kong and we should all muster an attempt to speak the local language. Then there are times when you need to go somewhere -– and you need to get there ASAP –- and it’s difficult to mutter landmarks in half-hearted Cantonese. Uber circumvents this, because you communicate through GPS, sent via your phone. Don’t know how to say your friend’s apartment complex in Cantonese? Just find it on Uber.
Plus, for Westerners and those that have not grown up speaking Chinese, Cantonese is hard!
3. It is confusing which taxis are out of service, and which are going to Kowloon.
For a city that is so developed, it is odd there is no better system for gauging which cabs are intent on only crossing the tunnel. Taxi drivers usually put up an ‘out of service’ sign to signal when they’ll only take customers heading over the bridge. A friend told me to do the wave-like motion with your arm when you want to cross. I did this once and just felt damn awkward. With a taxi or Uber app, you just need to drop a pin on where you’re going.
4. It is hard to make taxis accountable.
If you have ever had a bad experience, it’s very taxing to report. Whereas Uber, for all its flaws, has a very clear follow-up procedure for complaints. Taxi ripped you off? Too bad. Taxi refuses to take you to your destination even after you’ve gotten into the car and let out a pre-emptive sigh of relieve? Shrugs. There’s also this complaint my friend told me to add: taxi drivers occasionally smoke in their cars, and it’s not pleasant to inhale that the whole ride through.
Uber drivers rate their customers too, so it’s not just a one-way street.
5. It’s so very difficult to get a taxi, especially when you need one.
Try getting a taxi out of Lan Kwai Fong on a Saturday night. It’s a sobering experience.
To be honest, it’s not like I’m going to be taking an Uber on a daily or even frequent basis. (Although I might free load off of friends — some who are avid Uber users).
Part of why I love Hong Kong is because the public transportation is clean, fast and reliable. I use the MTR maybe 95 per cent of the time. But it’s always good to have options, and I want a car-on-demand option when I have a red-eye flight to the airport, a US$13 Uber voucher, and no cash at hand.
Uber, and other ride-sharing services, need to at least be a supplement on top of local taxi drivers. Hong Kong prides itself on being an efficient city; shouldn’t our private transport be as well?