One of the best things about Hong Kong is the wide choice of public transport that is available. Taxis are cheap and easy to find (unlike, say, Singapore, where there always seem to be queues of people waiting for taxis), the MTR and KCR are fast and very frequent (much better than London), and we have also have a vast number of buses and minibuses.
We also have frequent complaints from one set of transport operators or another. Earlier this year the government reduced taxi fares (as an experiment, and on a temporary basis) only to withdraw it when the taxi drivers protested against it. As usual, a government minister (this time Sarah Liao) was made to look stupid, though in this case she had apparently got agreement from the taxi owners assocaitions before introducing the change.
Now we have taxi drivers and minibus operators complaining about the growth of so-called "non-franchised bus services". These are what are often called "shuttle buses" that run from housing estates to stations or shopping centres, and also (I think) from shopping centres to pick up customers from nearby residential or commercial areas. The complaint is that there are now more of these services and that they are taking business away from taxis and minibuses.
So, on Thursday, taxi drivers gathered at Sha Tin racecourse, painted slogans on a taxi, attacked it with a hammer (!!) and then drove in convoy to the Tamar car park in Central.
Thursday's protest was aimed at non-franchised buses operating so-called "estate services" - running from housing estates to downtown areas.
Opponents argue that such services twist regulations that allow temporary services from new estates not yet fully served by buses and minibuses.
Mr Lam said the operators were supposed to continually move to new estates in order to provide services for residents.
"But the government keeps increasing their numbers, so there's no chance for these operators to move on to new projects. As a result, they're using the `grey areas' in the law to keep their operations commercially viable," he said.
"Their services are meant as residents' bus services to take people to the nearest rail station or bus interchange. But once they start picking up passengers along their routes, and accepting fares or installing Octopus machines, they're masquerading as buses and breaking the law."
But while the non-franchised operators say the government should better regulate their numbers, they disagreed with the need for more control. Mr Yeung said: "We need flexibility to survive."
"How can the minibuses prove that we are stealing their passengers? Our operators drive from places like Tin Shui Wai straight into Central. No minibuses operate these kinds of routes."
Then later the same day, bus operators organized their own protest by also driving to the Tamar site, hoping to persuade the Transport department not to introduce regulations preventing them operating these services.
The odd thing here is that given Hong Kong's reputation as a "free" economy, you wouldn't expect there to be any restrictions. If someone wanted to operate a "shuttle bus" from a private estate to Central or Tsim Sha Tsui then you would expect that they would be allowed to do so. In fact this is not the case, and we have a huge bureaucracy processing these applications and deciding what is permitted.
Where I live, we have a good shuttle bus service with a very frequent service, except that when they were granted the licence they were not allowed to operate from 12 noon to 2 pm. Naturally they ignored this and carried on operating throughout the day. After a few years the Transport Department discovered that this was happening, and the operator was told to adhere to the licence conditions. So now between 12 and 2 we have a free service that follows a slightly different route. Sometimes they even use different buses, or the same buses but with the name of the estate covered over! What a farce!!
I have very little sympathy for taxi drivers, I'm afraid. One of the minor irritations of life in Hong Kong is that taxi drivers are sometimes very unhappy to take you relatively short distances because they were hoping for a longer journey. If you are a non-Cantonese speaker they affect not to know where you want to go, whereas for everyone else they "show you bad face" (as my wife puts it).