Other Notable Taxicab Companies in Hong Kong before 1967
York Lo: Other Notable Taxicab Companies in Hong Kong before 1967
Aside from the Big Four cab companies profiled in the “the Four Taxi Kings – Blue, Central, New and Star”, there were a number of other taxicab companies that were formed before 1967.
These include HK & Kowloon Taxicab – the first taxicab firm in HK launched in 1923. In 1947, there were only 8 taxi companies in HK – Central, Star, Shanghai and Yellow on HK island side and Blue, New, Peninsula and Kowloon in Kowloon. (The first two in each group are covered in our article, The Four Taxi Kings – Blue, Central, New and Star, linked below, the last two in each group are covered here). Thanks to police oversight and stringent regulations, the number of taxis in HK was relatively flat between 1947 (615) and 1957 (693) as was the number of taxicab companies. During this period, taxi drivers were salaried employees of the taxicab companies, which maintained their own taxi stands and the cab of each company had a different color to differentiate it from its competitors (unlike today where the colors are determined by the geography the cab covers).
In the mid-1960s, de-regulation brought about significant changes where drivers could own taxicabs as an individual, and helped also by economic growth the number of cabs in HK swelled to 4585 by 1967 and today there are over 18000 cabs in Hong Kong. (Reference: The Uncertain Hand: Hong Kong Taxis and Tenders by Chris Hall published by CUHK Press in 1996)
Below are the profiles of some of these players formed between 1923 and 1967 in chronological order of their establishment:
Founding directors of HK Public Vehicle Owners Association in 1939. Centre in the front row was Wong Tong, a prominent businessman and supporter of Sun Yat-sen and first from the right in the front row was Chan Pak-wang, later chairman of the Luk Hoi Tong group. (Source: HK Taxi Owners Association 74th anniversary report)
HK & Kowloon Taxicab – the Pioneer
Founded in 1923, HK & Kowloon Taxicab Co Ltd was the first taxicab company in Hong Kong, although it only lasted for 4 years.
The mastermind behind the firm was Arthur Henry Rowe, an auto dealer who was the distributor of Buick cars and GMC trucks in Southern China. Before the firm arrived on the scene, the primary mode of transportation for individuals in HK was rickshaws. The idea was very popular and Rowe as managing director managed to attract an impressive list of investors from business elites across different ethnic groups in HK as shown by the composition of the firm’s board.
Henry Birkett, the well-known stock broker with the firm Moxon & Taylor and one time chairman of the HK Stock Exchange was chairman of the board which comprised of prominent Parsee merchant M. Nemazee, Chinese business leader and Legislative Councilor Chau Siu-ki (1863-1925, father of Sir Tsun-Nin Chau), HSBC comprador Chan Lim-pak (see profile), Russo-Asiatic Bank comprador Sum Pak-ming (岑伯銘) and Jewish broker Fred M. Ellis.
80 Citroen cars were imported and services commenced on both HK island and the Kowloon peninsula on June 1923 charging 40 cents per mile. The firm’s HK garage was located at 23 and 25 Des Voeux Road (the current site of Euro Trade Centre and On Lok Yuen building) in Central and its Kowloon garage was located in Salisbury Road near the KCR terminus while the firm also maintained an office at the newly built Asiatic Building in Central (later Shell House and now Central Tower).
While the idea was great, HK & Kowloon Taxicab had several things going against it – namely the high cost of automobiles, the rising cost of petroleum, the Canton HK strike of 1925 and competition which began in 1926. The typhoon of August 1927 which brought down the firm’s garage on Salisbury Road did not help matter. About 20 cars and half a dozen motor cycles were in the garage at the time of the disaster and extensive damage was caused. Unable to recover, the firm was liquidated in 1928 (investors managed to receive 58 cents per share; shares had face value of 10 dollars) and became a footnote in the history of transportation in HK.
What was left of the HK & Kowloon Taxicab garage after the typhoon in 1927 (Source: Flickr)
- The Hong Kong Telegraph, 1928-05-14
- HK Telegraph 22 August 1927
- Comacrib Directory, 1925
- Hong Kong Daily Press, 1932-01-29
Henry She (first from the right) with the leaders of the Lions Club of Happy Valley in 1969 including his partner David Lee (second from the left) who was president and founding president Chan Po-fun (founder of Kowloon Stock Exchange, third from the right) (Source: Wah Kiu Yat Po 1969-5-2)
Hongkong & Shanghai Taxicab Co Ltd was founded in 1929 by She Tat-cheong (佘達昌, 1881-1953). A local, She started his career as the comprador of a shipping company, the HK, Canton and Macao Steamboat Co but since business was not very brisk, he ventured into the silk trade and banking business, working as the comprador of Banque Indochine in Shameen.
Sensing an opportunity with the taxicab business, he launched Shanghai Taxicab with 10 Morris cars and despite the economic challenges in the 1930s, he was able to grow its fleet to 34 by the outbreak of the Pacific War which by then also included American cars such Dodges and Plymouths. In 1939, the firm was operating out of 2nd floor of the Dragon Motors garage in Wong Nei Chong Road in Happy Valley when it was robbed.
When the War broke out, She placed his entire fleet of cabs in the colony’s defense and suffered dearly. After War, he was able to rebuild his firm with the help of directors such as T. N. Chau (Exco and Legco member, son of Chau Siu-ki who backed the first taxicab firm discussed above), Chan Wai-chuen (manager of Hotel Cecil in Central) and W.C. Hung. In 1949 when it relocated its garage from Sing Wo Road to a different part of Happy Valley, the firm had 34 cabs, reaching the level of its pre-war success.
In 1953, She Tat-cheong died at the age of 72 and left an estate worth over $228,600, which was a sizeable sum at the time.
He was succeeded at Shanghai Taxi by his son She Hung (佘光洪) who had been with the business since 1929. A number of his other sons graduated from HKU and were involved in the legal or architectural field, the most prominent being Henry She Kwong-wah (佘光華), a structural engineer and partner of the architectural firm of Chau, Lee & She (his partners were architects Chau Iu-Nin and David Ta-wei Lee) who was president of Lions Club of Happy Valley in 1971-72 and chairman of the HK Road Safety Association in the early 1980s.
Over time, the family exited the taxi business to concentrate on property investments which include 86 Stanley Main Street.
- 工商晚報, 1949-04-07; 大公報, 1939-04-21
- Hong Kong Business Symposium: A Compilation of Authoritative Views on the Administration, Commerce, and Resources of Britain’s Far Eastern Outpost, 1957
Yellow Taxicab Co Ltd was incorporated in 1932.
The firm operated out of 7 Fleming Road in Wanchai (now Goodfit Commercial Building) and its phone number of 20000 was easy to remember. The chairman of the firm was Yung King-In (容景賢), the comprador of the Chartered Bank until his retirement in 1960. In 1934, the firm made headlines when Lam Pak-luen (林伯鸞) filed a lawsuit against two directors of the firm – accusing the chairman Yung of issuing a false set of 1932 financial statements with the intent to defraud and the managing director Cheng Yew of embezzlement of $80. Lam eventually became the managing director of the firm.
In 1941, the drivers of Yellow Taxicab started a strike over fellow staff members who had been fired.
Yellow Taxicab was the first cab company to resume service in the post War Hong Kong with its fleet of 6 Austin cabs in May 1946. In November 1947, a strike broke out at Yellow Taxi over the firing of two driver representatives which was fortunately resolved after a couple of days.
The firm was dissolved in 1992.
- The China Mail, 1934-01-12; 大公報, 1941-08-12 , 工商晚報, 1946-05-13; 華僑日報, 1947-11-04
- HK Dollar Directory, 1963; Telephone Directory of HK, 1948
- 香港戰後風雲錄. 2016; 香港工商日報, 1960-02-19
Fred Mow Fung
Kowloon Taxicab and Transportation Co Ltd, not to be confused with HK & Kowloon Taxicab discussed above, was incorporated in 1946. The firm was founded by its managing director Frederick Charles Mow Fung (1882-1950, original Chinese name Chung Yau Tak 鍾有德 though he also went by 鍾茂豐 which was also the Chinese name of his father), a prominent business and civic leader. In 1949, the board members of the firm included three prominent Chinese figures at the time – Richard Charles Lee (eldest son of Lee Hysan), the solicitor W.N. Thomas Tam (father in law of former Chief Justice T.L. Yang) and Mok Hing-shung (1899-1982, director of Wing On Bank and scion of the Mok family of compradors at Swire).
Son of Chung Mow-fung (whose surname is Chung but thanks to the ignorance of immigration officials, his name “Mow Fung” became the family’s English surname) who migrated to Australia in 1857, Fred Mow Fung was born near Stawell in Victoria, Australia in 1882 and came to HK with his family at the age of 13 in 1895.
After school at DBS, Fred went into business first with the Parsee merchant Dady Burjor and later established the trading firm of Mow Fung & Co in the early 1910s (although firm was not incorporated until 1918) in partnership with Frederick Howell and in 1916 it was appointed the sole distributor of Sanatogen, a popular food tonic from Europe, in HK and South China.
He also developed Grampian Road in Kowloon City, which was named after the Grampian region in Victoria where he spent his early years. Prior to founding Kowloon Taxicab, the Mow Fung family was already involved in the transportation field as Fred was an owner of rickshaws while his older brother Edward Mow Fung (1880-1936) was the sole distributor of the American Four Wheel Drive (F.W.D.) trucks in South China in the 1920s and 1930s in addition to being a partner of the timber and paper firm Der A Wing & Co in Central.
When the Kai Tack Motor Bus Company formed by the developers of the Kai Tak housing project (site of Kai Tak Airport) went into trouble in 1926, they invited Fred Mow Fung to join as secretary to help re-organize the firm and later they sold the firm and its fleet of 14 buses to the HK Tramways Company.
Outside of business, Fred Mow Fung was active in the community, having served as assistant superintendent of Police, president of the Kowloon Residents Association (for whom he represented in an election against Dr Li Shu-fan for a seat at the Sanitary Board in 1932 which he lost) and director of the Kwong Wah Hospital (alongside fellow taxi magnate Tsan Yung).
He and his sister Ruby Mow Fung (director of Gilman & Co and head of its export department) were also deeply involved with the Anglican Church in HK and his grandson Rev. Chung Ka-lok (鍾嘉樂) was the chairman of the HK Chinese Christian Churches Union.
After Fred Mow Fung’s death in 1950, R.C. Lee succeeded him as managing director of the firm. The firm operated out of 254-256 Sai Yeung Choi Street in Kowloon and also had taxi stands in Kowloon Tong. Its phone number was 50000. The firm was dissolved in 1992.
- The Courier Mail, Oct 5 1949.
- 香港工商日報, 1950-10-06
- Hong Kong Daily Press, 1916-05-12
- The China Mail, 1936-04-16
Dollar Motors (大行的士) and Peninsula Taxi (大來的士)
Dollar Motors Ltd and Peninsula Taxi Co Ltd, both incorporated in 1947, were two taxicab companies founded and controlled by the family of Yu To-Sang (余道生) and covered HK and Kowloon respectively. The Yu family fortune started with Yu To-sang’s father who founded Cheong Shing Investment Loan & Exchange (昌盛金舖, operated out of 52 Wing Lok Street in Sheung Wan, now CS Tower) in 1870 and was further augmented through property investments (most of which held through Dor Fook Co Ltd) which include many office buildings around Central such as Yu To Sang House on Queen’s Road Central and Yu Yuet Lai Building on Wyndham Street (Yu Yuet Lai was an alias of Yu To Sang). After the War, the family invested heavily in the transportation field through the acquisition of a significant stake at the Kowloon Motor Bus and launching the Dollar and Peninsula taxicab companies.
Dollar was managed by Yu To-sang’s eldest son in law Wong Sun-po (黃新普), a 1939 graduate of Lingnan University in Canton and Lam Wing-Kam (林榮鑫), an active St John’s Ambulance Brigade volunteer and Rotarian who served as chairman of the HK Public Vehicle Owners Association (香港營業汽車商會), which was founded in 1939, incorporated in 1962 and now known as HK Taxi Owners Association.
Other directors at the firm’s inception were all sons of Yu To-sang including Yu Chun-keung, Yu Chung-keung, Yu Fu-keung, Yu Ping-keung and Yu Lit-Keung. In 1949, its main station was located at 66C Bonham Road (Joseph S.M. Lau, the famous literature professor worked as a late shift call center operator at this office in his youth; now Kingsland Court built in 1983) with branch stations at 565-568 Queen’s Road West and 43 Wong Nei Chong Road in Happy Valley (So Sau-chung, the leader of the 1966 Star Ferry riots lived in the same building from 1951-71; building re-developed into Arts Mansion in 1979).
Mercedes Benz taxicab (unclear whether it was a Dollar taxi) in front of Yu To-Sang House on the left in Central in 1962 (Source: HK Public Library)
Like its competitors, it picked easy to remember numbers – 22622 and 33933 which also happen to be auspicious numbers in the Chinese language.
In 1979, the firm was still active with over 20 cabs when a strike was started triggered by a proposed change in revenue sharing arrangement from 60/40 to 70/30 between the firm and its drivers.
Dollar Motors was formally dissolved in 1989.
Peninsula (whose Chinese name 大來的士 sounds like Dollar Taxi and has caused some confusion) operated of 29 Kimberley Road in Kowloon and had the phone number 50555. It was managed by Yu Chung-keung (who also worked for the local Ford dealer Harpers) and his brother in law Wong Sun-po (secretary of the firm).
In 1949, the firm had two pieces of negative news – first it was fined for errors related to its registration, the second involved a cab driver who was sent to jail for stealing $500 from a passenger who left her purse in a Peninsula cab.
In 1954 and 1965, the firm experienced labor unrest. In 1968, Peninsula still had 119 cabs after selling 25 of them.
Eventually the firm exited the taxi business and was dissolved in 2003.
- 華僑日報, 1968-08-18; 工商晚報, 1979-01-26; 香港工商日報, 1949-12-08
Express Motors (風行的士)
Incorporated in 1947, Express Motors Co Ltd (風行汽車有限公司) was a leading cab company which operated out of 13 Village Road in Happy Valley and 102 Gloucester Road (phone number 24949) and also had garage in Causeway Bay.
Its backers were Chinese bankers associated with the Chinese Gold & Silver Exchange Society – Ho Tim (1909-2004) of Hang Seng Bank (for details of his life please refer to the biographical entry in Dictionary of HK Biography written by the author) was the chairman of the firm and the firm’s initial directors included the Chiuchow tycoon Ma Kam-chan (馬錦燦 1909-1984) of Tai Sang Bank and Tai Sang Land and Kwan Yuk-chi (關沃池, 1904-1959, founder of the now defunct Hang Lung Bank, his son Kwan Leung-choi 關量才 filled his board seat after his death and awa co-founder of HK Tenpin Bowling Congress).
The firm’s managers included Kee Yau-nin (紀有年1914-2006), who was also the head of the insurance department of Hang Seng Bank and So Fuk-lam (蘇福林). The company started out with 27 cabs on HK island in 1948, expanded to Kowloon and by 1967 it had 74 cabs in HK and 50 cabs in Kowloon.
In January 1967, it laid off 30 drivers which caused some stir but the matter did not escalate.
In 1982, the firm changed its business model by discontinuing its employment contracts with its over 200 drivers and leasing the cabs to them.
In more recent years, the firm was used as a holding company for properties and was finally dissolved in 2005.
- 華僑日報, 1967-01-27
- 華僑日報, 1982-04-03
- 大公報, 1982-04-02
World Taxi Co Ltd was allegedly the fifth largest taxicab firm in HK in the 1960s and was incorporated in 1960 by Mak Ping (麥炳).
Aside from running the cab company, Mak also operated two private schools in Jordan – Churchill English College (邱吉爾英文書院) and Pok Wan English Secondary School (博允英文中學).
In 1964, he was robbed in his Yaumatei home and one of his drivers also made headlines for being taken to court as he refused to drive a reporter to Clearwater Bay. In 1965, the firm experienced labor unrest which was resolved after an increase in pay and holidays.
Mak died 2 days before the Christmas in 1969 at the age of 65. His widow was not interested in keeping the business and in 1972, World Taxi laid off its over 200 drivers and the firm was dissolved in 1973. The firm operated out of a garage in Sun Po Kong and primarily focus on the Kowloon market.
Co-founders of Olympic Taxi – Yung Yin-cheong (fourth from the right) and Wong Tsai-to (fourth from the left) together with fellow HK Public Vehicle Owners Association directors in 1955. (Source: HK Taxi Owners Association 74th anniversary report)
Olympic Taxis Co Ltd was formed in 1963 by five taxi industry veterans who were leaders of the HK Public Vehicle Owners Association (now HK Taxi Owners Association) including Yung Yin-cheong (翁燕昌), Wong Chai-to (黃齊度) and Tsui King-chee (徐勁之).
The Chinese name of the firm was Five Circles which not only represents the Olympic Games but also the five founders of the firm.
Yung started out in the taxi industry in the 1930s and was involved in the formation of the HKPVOA in 1939. During the War, he helped to drive ambulance carrying supplies to Canton. After the War, Yung operated his own transportation firm. Regulation at the time made it difficult for new entrants to enter the taxicab business as new licenses were only awarded to companies who had the means to acquire at least 20 taxis. This prompted the five founders of Olympic Taxis to pool their resources together to start the firm and they managed to buy 10 taxicabs.
After the taxi industry deregulation in 1964, Yung left the firm to start “Golden Jubilee Taxi” (金禧的士) and eventually retired.
Wong led the HK Taxi Owners Association during the 1970s during which he set up the first industry wide taxi call center in Hong Kong in 1971 and also successfully secured the first fare hike in decades.
- Source for addresses, directors and phone numbers: Business Directory of HK, Canton & Macao 1949
This article was first posted on 31st March 2017.
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