Hong Kong government bureau faces backlash over Uber comments

Innovation bureau accuses ride-hailing service of breaking the law, prompting angry internet users to argue that officials are protecting traditional taxi trade

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 11:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 5:16am

Hong Kong’s Innovation and Technology Bureau is facing a strong backlash from internet users after it hit out at Uber in a Facebook post, saying the ride-hailing service had been “deliberately breaking the law” in the city.

In the strongly worded post titled “Uber chose to break the law when it actually had a choice”, the bureau accused the company of ignoring its social responsibility while only chasing profit.

“Uber was clear about the rules in Hong Kong but still chose to break the law by allowing its drivers to pick up guests illegally, which eventually led to arrests,” the post said.

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“The company actually had the opportunity to decide if it wanted to operate legally or not in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, it chose the opposite,” it said.

Within hours of publication, the post prompted more than 5,000 angry reactions compared to about 90 indications of support.

“With this post, [the bureau] demonstrated perfectly a city government without foresight, adaptability to disruptive changes,” wrote one Facebook user.

“Clamping down on Uber is only a means to safeguard the vested interests in taxi licensing,” another commented.

But bureau chief Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, who praised the firm’s business model as “truly innovative”in 2015, said on Saturday that he did not agree that to innovate meant breaking existing rules. He added that Uber would have to abide by the law in Hong Kong in providing ride-hailing services.

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The San Francisco-based company has had a bumpy ride in Hong Kong since its launch in 2014 amid protests from local taxi drivers who have to obtain government permits and purchase insurance for their cars to operate.

Hong Kong police arrested 22 Uber drivers for illegal car hiring in May in the latest clampdown against the firm, while a Hong Kong court found five Uber drivers guilty of illegally offering ride-hailing services in March.

In response to the Facebook post, Uber said it believed it was still possible for Hong Kong to legalise ride-hailing services.

“As China, Singapore, Australia and more than 100 other governments around the world have shown, it’s possible to put in place regulations that regulate ride sharing.” the company said.