Macau protesters demand legalisation of Uber as ride-hailing company set to leave city

They accuse government of protecting taxi trade’s vested interests and call for opening up of market to ride-hailing firms

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 8:56pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 10:41pm

More than 300 supporters of car-hailing service Uber in Macau took to the streets in the sweltering heat yesterday to protest against the government’s crackdown on the outgoing operator as they accused the authorities of protecting the vested interests of the taxi trade with messy transport policies.

Holding placards that read “We need Uber, no more tickets”, and shouting slogans calling for the legalisation of Uber, the protesters marched from Tap Seac Square to the Macau government headquarters in Avenida da Praia Grande, demand that the government consider opening up the market to ride-hailing firms with ride-sharing regulations.

The rally came as the ride-hailing firm is set to bid farewell to the casino enclave on September 9, blaming heavy penalties imposed on its drivers, harassment to passengers and the authorities’ reluctance to regulate the car-sharing industry. Uber, operating in the enclave since October last year, has worked with over 2,000 full-time and part-time drivers and claimed it had generated MOP$21 million (HK$19.9 million) in economic activity for local residents.

Too much risk and too little money deter Hong Kong Uber drivers

Jeremy Lei Man-chao, spokesman for organiser Macao Community Development Initiative, said that due to a dire lack of taxis – many of them refuse to take local residents – there is a demand gap, which can be filled by Uber’s ride-hailing service. At present, there are over 1,300 taxis in Macau, which has a population of about 650,000 and an annual average of over 30 million tourists.

“Macau taxi [service] is fraught with problems, including refusal to [pick up] local residents, overcharging and cherry-picking of passengers ... All taxi drivers prefer to take tourists,” Lei said. “As a responsible government, it needs to introduce competition to improve the provision of taxi services and also other mode of services to satisfy the public demand,”he added.

Macau lawmaker Au Kam-san said so far they have not received any responses from the government, accusing it of giving in to the pressure of the taxi trade by refusing to issue more taxi licences. “A taxi licence is estimated to be worth over MOP$10 million. Taxi owners want to protect their interest and they don’t want more licences to drag down their licence prices,” he said.

An Uber driver, who had been fined by the Macau authorities six times, said he earned over MOP$30,000 per month and it was not easy to find another job with so many advantages. “The [working hours] are flexible and the income is good. Also, all the penalties are paid by Uber which offers really good back-up support,” he said.

Another protester, Joanne Tam, who uses Uber services at least twice a week, said it was a great pity that it would quit Macau. “For me, 90 per cent of the time, I can’t hire a taxi on the street and the cabbies are very rude. But Uber drivers are like my friends. They are very friendly and provide comfortable rides,” she said.

Uber notified Macau Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on about the decision on August 16. Chui’s office has not replied. More than 300 drivers had been fined 10 million patacas since its operations began in October.

The US-based car-hailing mobile phone app has been popular in Macau, where taxis are in short supply. Its operation in Macau has been deemed illegal by the authorities, who have launched 379 prosecutions related to Uber.