The Hong Kong government proposes to introduce 600 premium taxis into the city on top of the existing 18,000 taxis. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Five Uber drivers were founded guilty of driving vehicles for hire without permits and third-party insurance in a Hong Kong court on Friday.

Chan Tsz-lun, Sunny Leung, Lau Kwan-wing, Chan Kin-fung and Luk Chun-pong were each fined HK$10,000 (US$1,288) in West Kowloon Court, RTHK reported. They would also be banned from driving for one year, pending their appeals.

Uber’s online car-hailing app was no different from other illegal car hiring services, So Wai-tak, Acting Principal Magistrate, said in his verdict. Even though no cash transactions were involved, Uber’s service was still commercial in nature, So said.

The law in Hong Kong states that people must have a special license to drive a vehicle for hire and buy third-party insurance, which aims to protect the safety of passengers, he said.

In 2015, police arrested the five defendants for violating the Road Traffic Ordinance. Two others Uber drivers, who pleaded guilty earlier to the same offences, were fined HK$7,000 each in January and banned from driving for one year.

Read: Five Uber drivers deny carrying passengers illegally in HK

Meanwhile, the Transport Bureau proposed introducing 600 premium taxis next year, in addition to the 18,000 regular taxis on the roads now, in a Legislative Council document. The flag fall for premium taxis is expected to be between HK$32 and HK$36, about 35 and 50% higher than ordinary cabs.

Premium taxis, which will be operated under the government’s five-year trial program with three franchises, will meet huge demand from high-end passengers that current cabs do not provide, Hung Wing-tat, an associate professor of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Polytechnic University, was quoted as saying in a RTHK report.

A government source said Uber was also welcome to bid for one of the three franchises.

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