Time to Uberize Lantau’s transport network

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.


  1. Wouter

    Seriously? The solution to Lantau’s traffic woes would be to add dozens if not hundreds of private cars?
    The main problem is large numbers of tourists – almost all of whom are going to Tai O and Ngong Ping, with smaller numbers to secondary destinations like Cheung Sha Beach. Most of these come from Tung Chung, a smaller number from Mui Wo. On top of that, as you indicated already, there are only a few roads on Lantau so basically everyone travels the same routes.
    Once you realise this, it should be obvious that a motorcade of illegal taxi services (such as most of Uber’s drivers) and regular taxis is not the solution. Buses are the way to go. Now getting more buses is a problem in itself (you have to have the vehicles on hand), it is the better solution. Rather add 10 buses each carrying 50 people to Lantau’s roads than 200 taxis and “Uber”s each carrying just 2-3 people!

  2. Robert Clark

    The advantage of the uber model is its flexibility and ability to make use of available resources. There are around several thousand vehicles with South Lantau permits (the Transport Dept doesn’t have exact number) so the idea is that existing permitted vehicles be allowed to carry passengers in peak periods. That wouldn’t add to the existing traffic load. ON the subject of buses, NLB has been talking about trialling double decker buses on S Lantau roads for a year. Still haven’t seen any.

  3. wouter

    It will add to the traffic load as you do add more cars on the road – these private taxis are currently NOT on the road: after all, why would they? Just drive around for the fun of it? Asking cars to be available to shuttle tourists up and down the hills simply adds more traffic – traffic that isn’t there, now.
    It would make more sense for NLB to bring back (yes, they used to operate double deckers on Lantau, decades ago) double deck buses instead.

  4. Robert Clark

    It only needs an extra 15 or so vehicles an hour over peak periods. That’s not even a 5% increase on the current peak hour vehicle volume. But this is hypothetical anyway. There is no way this government will allow investors in the taxi business to face competition.

  5. Wouter

    > no way this government will allow investors in the taxi business to face competition.
    I hope you remember that Lantau is the exact place where the number of taxi licenses has been increased drastically recently – so this argument, when it comes to Lantau at least, is moot.
    Also 15 private vehicles an hour – that’s about 30-40 passengers (most taxis don’t carry their full capacity), or far less than a single deck bus load – will that really solve those 2-hour waiting times for buses? It sounds like the problem is at least an order of magnitude larger than this. If this are all fully occupied 7-seaters it would help, but still that’d be the same as adding just one or two buses an hour.

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