More blue taxis could be hitting the Lantau roads as early as April.
The Transport Dept issued a tender for an extra 25 Lantau taxi plates on December 18, potentially increasing the stretched local fleet by 50%.
Local taxi numbers last increased in 1997,when ten new licences were issued as Chek Lap Kok Airport began operation.
Since then Disney and Ngong Ping 360 have opened, tourist numbers have increased fivefold and the populations of both Tung Chung and South Lantau have expanded significantly.
The result is that taxis in South Lantau have become scarce at most times and almost totally unobtainable on Sundays and public holidays.
Residents routinely share horror stories of trying to make flights on time, and many report having to pay a surcharge to entice drivers to turn up. Even the local press picked up on the story.
Under pressure from local businesses and the District Council, the Transport Department finally caved last June, for once ignoring the views of the the taxi industry.
Announcing the tender, the department said:
The survey results and public feedback have shown that there is unmet demand in the current Lantau taxi service. Future developments on Lantau Island and the projected growth of the local population and visitors will further add to the demand for such service. Therefore, the Government decided to issue 25 Lantau taxi licences.
The new licences will be sold via tender to the highest bidders. The licences cannot be transferred for five years.
The expansion of the fleet is a milestone for not just for Lantau; these are the first new taxi licences of any kind issued by the SAR government. The last licence issue was in fact the blue plates handed out by the exiting colonial government.