The SCMP reports that new 5-seater taxis are to be introduced in the New Territories (subscription required).
Battery-powered seven-seater vans will soon be introduced across the New Territories as a more comfortable alternative to the usual taxis, with the same fares, at least initially.
The chairman of the Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group, Lai Ming-hung, said three taxi companies had invested up to HK$60 million to buy 20 modified seven-seat Toyota vans, which will be introduced as a pilot scheme in June.
They are an attempt to counter business taken away by illegal van services operating out of the airport.
The so-called "vans" (I'd call them "people carriers") are a good option for travelling to and from the airport, being both cheaper and more spacious than normal taxis. It's bizarre that they are illegal, but the taxi business is highly regulated in Hong Kong, with fares fixed by the government, and taxi licences are a tradeable commodity.
The law says that taxi drivers cannot offer discounts, but they can give a discount if a passenger asks for one. Of course, it's not easy to negotiate a discount when you jump in a cab, but it is possible to order a taxi by phone and get a discount of 20-40%.
In London, black taxis are similar to Hong Kong taxis (highly regulated and with fares fixed by the government), but there are also a large number of private hire vehicles (usually called "mini cabs"). You have to book by phone, but prices are not regulated, and they are almost always much cheaper than black taxis. There was a time when they were often rather seedy, with elderly and dirty cars and dodgy drivers, but now the industry is more regulated and standards are much higher, with a range of different vehicles available, including the large "people carriers". If you want to go from Heathrow to another part of London, it's a good idea to book a mini-cab rather than paying a small fortune for a black taxi.
One can only hope that common sense prevails, and Hong Kong adopts a similar system, legalising the so-called vans. Of course, normal taxis should be allowed to compete by offering discounted fares for longer journeys booked by phone. Then everyone's a winner.