Uber here to stay in Hong Kong despite setbacks, executive declares

Ride-sharing firm says that despite being declared illegal and seeing its drivers arrested, it hopes to work with new government and move forward

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 10:43pm

Uber has no intention of pulling out of Hong Kong despite feeling the heat in recent months, one of its top executives says.

From the government branding the US car-hailing giant illegal to the arrest of its drivers, Uber’s business model has raised the ire of officials and taxi drivers who see their livelihoods under threat.

Andrew Macdonald, who manages the firm’s Asia-Pacific business from San Francisco, said on Thursday that Uber had no intention of putting the brakes on its Hong Kong operations, unlike in previous cases in Macau and Taiwan when it faced government opposition.

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“With Hong Kong, its no secret we have an ongoing dialogue with the government, so that has been a challenge here,” Macdonald, general manager for Latin America and the Asia-Pacific, told the Post as the company launched an Asia-wide campaign from Hong Kong to highlight support for its drivers.

“We don’t want to exit Hong Kong. We are going to do our best to work with a new government. I am optimistic based on what I’ve heard and I think we can turn a page and move forward really positively.”

The government’s stance is that car-hailing services have to be run like existing taxi companies in order to be legal, thus competing fairly with less popular taxi drivers. Comments by the transport minister in the previous administration were seen as an attempt to blunt Uber’s growth and rein in its popularity.

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Most recently, the stakes were upped when 22 Uber drivers were arrested for various offences. In response, 12,000 Hongkongers signed a petition throwing its support behind Uber.

Over 1 million people have downloaded the Uber app in Hong Kong, according to the company.

The car-hailing company said its business thrived on its flexibility on pricing and being able to add drivers and vehicles to its business with light-touch regulation – and in turn local laws needed reform.

Uber said it was optimistic because the government proclaimed it wanted to embrace technology.

In response, the Transport and Housing Bureau said it maintained an “open mind” on car-hailing apps.

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A spokeswoman, however, stressed: “Hire car services adopting new technologies or platforms must be in compliance with the relevant law and regulations to protect the interest and safety of passengers.”

The bureau claimed that unregulated and illegal passengers services threatened the planning, investment and expansion of public transport systems.

Macdonald said officials had to match talk with action. “If I come as a tourist or on business and I am hearing Hong Kong is all about embracing technology but I can’t use the technology that exists in 600 cities around the world, that gap becomes pretty apparent.”