Uber taxis: they may be luxurious, but not everyone's hailing them

Complaints about late pick-ups and lost drivers mar launch of Uber's private driver-style service

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 5:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 9:06pm

Luxury taxi service Uber launched in Hong Kong yesterday to a tepid reception amid complaints about late pick-ups and drivers getting lost.

A senior executive of the private driver-style service, which allows users to call and pay for taxis through a mobile phone app, said it was working to get its drivers up to speed.

Uber has pledged to offer more choice for customers and shake up competition in a market where 18,000 taxis serve a million passengers a day.

But Logistics executive Phillip Forsyth, 50, said he was picked up by Uber's "worst driver" for a journey from Tsim Sha Tsui to Ho Man Tin. He waited 24 minutes for the pick-up rather than the advertised 10 minutes and the journey took twice as long as expected when the driver got lost.

Forsyth, who had given the address, next to Kowloon City police regional headquarters on Argyle Street, in Cantonese, said he had to give further instructions after "a few wrong turns".

The 35-minute journey was billed as a normal 15-minute ride after the meter was stopped.

"No one is perfect and I'll use them again for sure," Forsyth said.

Sam Gellman, Uber general manager for Hong Kong, said public transport problems were not uncommon.

"In the beginning it takes a while for the drivers to get used to the system, and we're working through that," he said. "Everyone's had problems with transportation. Name a person who hasn't in the city."

Ryan Michael Cheung also wasn't happy with the service.

"Nothing like being lost in Hong Kong with @Uber_HK. Late for dinner. Dinner cancelled. Night ruined," he posted on Twitter.

Angus Wong complained the app said his taxi would arrive in three minutes but it took 20.

When rain left a shortage of urban red cabs, Alistair Roberts praised Uber for arriving in 15 minutes - though on a previous attempt, the Uber driver couldn't locate Roberts at the IFC2.

Uber's local services are focused on Hong Kong island, although cars are also available for trips around urban Kowloon.

Free wi-fi and water are provided in its Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Cadillac Escalade cars. Uber's website lists a base fare of HK$35 plus HK$2 per minute and HK$9.32 per kilometre.

"Our [comfort level] is altogether a different experience," Gellman said.

"We can constantly make the ride better."

Uber's Hong Kong move expands its presence to 150 cities including London, Amsterdam, Singapore and Shanghai.