Taxi driver 的士司機（dik1 si6 si1 gei1）[的士 is transliterated from Taxi and 司機 means driver], is an occupation that could be found in most countries in the world. A taxi driver has to drive their passengers to their destination and the fee is often calculated according to the taximeter (distance, time), amount of luggage, toll fee and so on. There are three types of taxis in Hong Kong: Urban taxi, New Territories taxi and Lantau island taxi. The division restricts drivers from serving in different districts.
Mr. Au, 66 years old, has been a taxi driver for 40 years. Before he became a taxi driver, he was a factory worker. He changed his career because he thought being a factory worker would not offer him a brighter future. “The taxi industry was quite good in the 1980s because the railway was not yet well-developed. There were less transportation options” he said. That is why he became a taxi driver. He claimed that he thought of his job – driving a taxi – as also his hobby and that he would like to continue his work until he retires. “I love being a taxi driver because it has a large degree of freedom. I can take a break as I wish. The most important thing is that I would not affect anyone if I take it slow when I’m not hired.”
Besides driving skills, what a taxi driver needs is a healthy body. It is important to have a fresh mind and good eyesight, as he believed in “safety first”. Mr. Au said, the declining attitude of Hong Kong drivers in recent years has led to increased traffic accidents. “You need to be safe, especially when you are carrying passengers. The new generation of drivers only know “money first”. They drive fast and are always in a hurry.” said Mr. Au. He said it could be related to the development of vehicle technology; when more cars change to automatic transmission, driving is made easier. “In the 1980s, all taxis and most cars were manual transmission. It makes driving a vehicle more difficult than now, which made us look more professional as well. Automatic taxis became common around 2000s and I drove it since then. The new generation may not be so familiar with the manual taxis, but it is much more complicated to operate.” said Mr. Au. (For myself, born in 1996, I barely remember what a manual transmission taxi looks like. I found it interesting and important to note this discussion so that young people in Hong Kong could know about the transformation of taxis in this city.)
Mr. Au said one of the difficulties when he is working is finding a toilet. “It is quite inconvenient when you have to go to the toilet but you have to park the car. I may receive a traffic ticket when I am in the toilet, then I would earn nothing on that day.” Besides the inconvenience of finding toilets, the irregular meal time was also a difficulty. “Most of the taxi drivers suffer from stomach ache because we do not have a regular ‘lunch time’, our meal times are very irregular.” What’s more, because taxi drivers have to sit for over 12 hours per day, they also suffer from back pains.
Change of public transport network
In the past, when the public transport system was not as efficient, taxis had more orders. “People would choose to take a taxi back home at midnight because there were not so many night buses.” said Mr. Au. As the transportation network grew more mature, the accessibility of remote areas has risen as well. When people have more choices, they would obviously prefer the option which costs less. “I would not say that the MTR (subway in Hong Kong) steals our customers, because its development contributes to the whole society. But it is true that it has made driving taxis less profitable.” said Mr. Au.
Discount taxi 八折的 (baat3 zit3 dik1)
Mr. Au commented earlier that the new generation of taxi drivers were too concerned with making quick profits, which could raise the chances of traffic accidents. According to him, these same drivers even choose to violate the law to earn more money. In 2003, a new term called “discount taxi” emerged. Mr. Au said, “The SARS (epidemic) in 2003 affected the taxi industry greatly, and in order to attract customers, some taxi drivers would make a discount for them, usually 20% off of the original price.(八折 meaning 20% off)”. [It is illegal to offer discounts] These discount taxi drivers have their own network and they use phones to receive the orders, unlike the normal orders from a taxi pager station. Mr. Au said it is just a tactic for a taxi driver to survive in a recession. However some drivers may become distracted by phones which can easily lead to traffic accidents. With newly developed technologies advancing the taxi order service, drivers end up putting more and more phones around their steering wheels. “I think the government should set up a regulation to restrict drivers from installing too many phones in their car, it is just too dangerous.” said Mr. Au. (Photo retrieved from Oriental Daily)
“Uber is actually is similar to the 白牌車[baak6 paai4 ce1](car without taxi license but operates as taxi) in the past, and I think government should repeat what they did in the past and ban it. However the support for the Uber system is just too big, and because they charge with credit cards there are legal loopholes which makes it difficult to ban them.” Mr. Au said because Uber will affect the price of the taxi license (license for owning a taxi but not for driving taxi), it affects the taxi industry directly. A taxi license in Hong Kong can be 5 million per one license because the government stopped approving them since 1986. “Uber is devaluing someone else’s property. It is unfair to existing taxi owners” said Mr. Au. (Photo retrieved from UNILAD)
“I think driving a taxi is a “as you sow, so shall you reap” kind of job, it is difficult to make a huge profit but it offers me sufficient money to raise my children and support my family. I am already satisfied with it”. Having been a taxi driver for more than 40 years, Mr. Au said, besides money, he has gained a lot of knowledge about the different roads and locations in Hong Kong. “It’s just like exploring Hong Kong. For every hire, I would go to places that I would never know if I weren’t a taxi driver. I’ve become a human-map of Hong Kong after driving a taxi here for 40 years. I’m familiar with most of the roads in Hong Kong.”
Editor: Spencer Lam
sound track of the interview