The Legislative Assembly (AL) finally passed in plenary session yesterday the bill that updates the current laws regulating the transportation of passengers in rental light vehicles, known informally as the “taxi law.” The law will exclude individuals from competing in taxi licenses, instead permitting only companies with a minimum capital of MOP5 million.
The law proposal, which had passed on its first reading in April last year, has now finally been approved and will enter into force 90 days after its publication in the government’s Official Gazette.
As the president of the Third standing committee of the AL, Vong Hin Fai, explained at the beginning of the session, this law took an unexpectedly long time to attain consensus within the committee, with the deadline for its discussion being extended more than once.
Although the law proposal was finally approved, yesterday’s debate at the AL session generated a heated discussion that lasted for about three hours.
The first to raise questions on the topic was lawmaker Sulu Sou, who criticized the removal of such language in the bill that could open up the possibility of taxis using mobile apps.
Sou considered that the removal of this detail in the final version of the bill was a step backward, which does not take into good consideration the development trend in most countries and territories worldwide.
The Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Raimundo do Rosário, replied that the provision allows for the use of an app to call taxis only under the new system of “on call” taxis.
Au Kam San, who besides considering that the definition of what is considered a taxi needed more accuracy and detail, raised once more the government’s decision to allow only the participation of companies in future taxi licensing tenders.
In Au’s opinion, this decision “is against all the expectations of society and against the idea of the law itself.” The lawmaker noted that the government is “taking the business from the hands of the small [taxi drivers] and delivering [the taxi business even further] into the hands of the big companies, transforming all taxi drivers into employees.”
In reply, the director of the Transport Bureau, Lam Hin San, said, “we are adopting a different model. Through the companies, we can achieve better training for the drivers and also better maintenance for the cars.”
Lam noted that the government is well aware of the limitations of the individual and personal management model. The official also pointed out that resolving the public’s ongoing problems with taxi drivers was another advantage of the incorporation model that the government has established as the only means by which to apply for the upcoming tender.
Lawmaker Ella Lei chipped in to express concerns over the rules of incorporation and the possibility of shareholders growing too influential in this sector of the economy. “The government did not hear the opinion of the lawmakers,” she said. “There is a concern that a main stakeholder can be part of several companies, which can effectively result in a monopoly on the tender,” she said.
Lei also argued that there are both good taxi drivers and bad taxi drivers and that this system is treating all of them in the same way without any distinction, forcing all into a corporate model in the future.
Following on from Lei was her stand partner, Leong Sun Iok, who reaffirmed the position of his peer. Leong noted that the base salary of taxi drivers is only around MOP10,000 per annum, and that the incorporation model would create even more problems of survival and poor working conditions.
This was an opinion also shared by José Pereira Coutinho, who noted that the requirement of interested companies to control capital of a minimum of MOP5 million would exclude many of the younger generation from achieving their own license to work in the field. “For sure, there would be more effective methods to do this such as by raising the fines [applied to law-infringing drivers], among others.”
After a long discussion the floor returned to Sulu Sou, who enquired about a law provision that grants the discretionary power to the Chief Executive to attribute licenses without a public tender in situations of “public interest.”
Sou noted that such a provision does not make sense, also agreeing with many other lawmakers that the policy chosen by the government to address the taxi problem was like trying to treat a “cancer tumor” by “killing all the cells, [good and bad].”
A representative of the Legal Affairs Bureau replied to Sou, saying that the possibility of strikes or severe conflicts between companies and the government that could result in damage to the image of Macau might be an instance when the intervention of the Chief Executive is required. “The government must possess an instrument it can use in case of a need to ensure the taxi service,” the representative answered.
At the end of the discussion, the Secretary praised the approval of the bill, stressing that the solution of consensus had been reached throughout the discussion, even if that consensus was not the same as unanimity.
Except for a few articles requested to be voted on separately, the law was approved with all votes in favor. Voting against all articles regarding the use of surveillance recording equipment in taxis was Sou, who remarked during the vote declaration, “if [allowing recording] would make all taxi drivers [suddenly] observe the law, then we have a social ethics problem. [It does not make sense that] we must set up a camera recording to protect ourselves.”