A daily bulletin of news & opinion

25 November 2011

With 18,000 taxis on Hong Kong’s roads, this is a city in which you’ll never have to wait more than a few minutes to find one.

Well, almost never anyway. Don’t even attempt flagging one down on rainy days because they’ll all be occupied, or at 4pm when drivers are on shift-change and all taxis vanish.

Though Hong Kong’s public transport system is as close to perfect as it could be, taxis are an exceptionally convenient alternative to crowded buses, trams and the metro. 

They cost next to nothing – a trip from West Hong Kong to Central sets you back no more than HKD25 or just over €2. And they look cool. Hong Kong’s taxi-fleet is made up of boxy Crown Comfort Toyotas.

They’re painted in different colours: Red cars on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, blue on Lantau Island and green in the New Territories. If nothing else, the different colours will tell you in which part of Hong Kong you’re currently in if you’re ever in doubt.

Most also run on gas – a plus in Hong Kong’s battle against pollution.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be picked up by the driver who sings love songs in French and English, or by one of the drivers who are taxi-dispatchers on the go, attending to their many beeping mobile phones neatly attached to the dashboard. I’ve counted up to nine.

A less exciting aspect of taxi-rides here, is Hong Kong’s taxi drivers’ very own, and very unique, style of driving.

It’s a sort of nudge-the-gas-pedal-step-on-the-brakes-accelerate-brake-accelerate-scenario where passengers are thrown around the backseat like gloves in a washing machine. Highly uncomfortable and sometimes difficult to stomach.

The automatic taxi-doors, controlled by the driver, can on occasion also be used against you if you’ve managed to upset your driver – to either trap you or smash you on the head.

Thankfully, I’ve only been taxi-door-squeezed once (it might have had something to do with Swedish-Chinese cultural differences) and though there are plenty of grumpy taxi-drivers who make disgruntled noises when I pronounce my destination in Cantonese with a Swedish accent, the majority are a pleasant lot. They’d never dream of taking you on a detour.

The Hong Kong taxi brings all of this city’s characteristics into one car-ride; it’s fast-moving, efficient, ambitious – one always competing with the other for space – at times nauseating but you always come back for more.


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