Hong Kong taxis and their Japan connection | Mutantfrog Travelogue

25 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Hong Kong taxis and their Japan connection | Mutantfrog Travelogue

Hong Kong taxis and their Japan connection

During my New Year#8217;s trip to Hong Kong, I managed to ride in a taxi only once. I was at Hong Kong International Airport and I needed to get to Mui Wo on the other side of the island of Lantau, where I was spending the night.

This required a fairly expensive ride up and down a giant mountain in the middle of the island, but fortunately I got to split the fare with a friendly Cathay Pacific pilot who didn#8217;t want to wait for the next elusive blue taxi.

You see, in Hong Kong, there are three kinds of taxis. In central Hong Kong and Kowloon, the most developed parts, you mostly see #8220;red taxis#8221; which are licensed to serve the urban center. In the New Territories to the north, you see #8220;green taxis#8221; which are limited to the New Territories.

Lantau likewise has its own fleet of #8220;blue taxis.#8221; If you are traveling solely on Lantau, your only option is the blue taxi: a red or green taxi is not allowed to carry you. Which is a shame because there are a LOT of red taxis at the airport.

I ended up calling a dispatcher (after waiting for a few minutes to see if a blue taxi would show up at random). Ten minutes later, a blue taxi showed up, and the pilot and I began a long trek across Lantau.

Most of the island is undeveloped mountains and hills, and the road crossing through the middle is in a never-ending process of being widened to two lanes. I learned from my traveling companion that driving is tightly restricted on Lantau, and even if you have a car there (which requires a special permit) you can#8217;t drive it around during the day#8212;only at night. The poor throughput on the mountain road was enough to convince me that said policy was justified.

Our journey gave me plenty of time to notice something odd about the cab. It used to be Japanese, and in fact it still had a few Japanese stickers in the window, including a peeling and somewhat outdated fare quote in yen.

It turns out that, at least according to Wikipedia, #8220;almost all taxis in Hong Kong are Toyota Comfort #8220;#8212;the same model as the boxy taxis and police cars found all over Japan. After spotting this example, I spent quite some time getting intensely interested in Hong Kong taxis, and I noticed that this was not a one-off: many other Hong Kong taxis carry Japanese markings here and there. In some taxi windows, I could see spots where the stickers had been removed.

What led to this practice? I can#8217;t say for sure, although I can give some plausible reasons.

One is that cars lose value pretty quickly in Japan because of stringent roadworthiness testing (#8220; shaken #8220;) requirements which make older cars prohibitively expensive to keep. As a result, exporting is a big business: a person who doesn#8217;t want to pay for the inspection is often happy to sell their car to an exporter for a bargain price. Then the exporter can ship it to Australia, Russia, Hong Kong or elsewhere, sell it to a local and collect a tidy profit.

Hong Kong is also the closest left-hand drive territory to Japan. which makes it a natural market for used Japanese cars: they fit right in, much moreso than they would in Korea, Taiwan or mainland China (where people drive on the right).

Hong Kong shares the crowdedness and hilly terrain which Japanese taxis are (I assume) well designed to handle.

I#8217;m sure there#8217;s some funky tax or regulatory reason for this as well, which some friendly commenter will point out.

Anyway, Mui Wo, my final destination, was an odd corner of civilization, and it served to show me that even Hong Kong, the most modern and developed part of China, still has its little pockets of Third Worldliness.

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