Ride-sharing giant Uber to suspend service in Macau after battle with regulators

Hong Kong operations not affected, spokeswoman says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 11:33pm

Ride-sharing giant Uber will suspend its service in Macau from Friday after a fruitless two-year battle with the government over regulations.

But operations in Hong Kong, where the firm is facing similar legal scrutiny from local authorities, would not be affected, an Uber spokeswoman said.

“We have fought hard every day to legitimise our Macau operations ... Unfortunately, we have still room for improvement on this issue,” the firm said in a statement on its website.

“This was not an easy decision, but was made with the best interests of Macau in mind. We hope the decision will bring positive changes,” it said, adding it hoped to make a comeback soon.

It is the second time Uber has suspended services in the former Portuguese enclave. Last August, Uber paused services in the gaming hub due to hefty fines being imposed on drivers. More than 300 drivers were fined more than 10 million patacas since its operations began in October 2015.

But the ride-sharing company later decided to stay after receiving overwhelming support from local residents. It collected some 23,000 online signatures in less than a month.

This time, the news also sparked anger among Macau Uber users on social media.

“It’s not fair! You guys are providing good job opportunities for locals and providing great customer service – why can’t the government see that? Taxi drivers always refuse rides, or give me an attitude when it’s a short ride – that’s why I prefer Uber,” one Facebook user said.

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Lawmakers blame Uber’s failure in Macau on government bureaucracy and an industry monopoly.

“The government has never intended to let Uber operate legally, even though Uber wanted to be properly regulated. What a shame,” Macau lawmaker Au Kam-san said.

He said local residents had benefited from the services it provided, as ordinary taxi drivers often refused to take locals.

Another lawmaker, José Pereira Coutinho, said Uber was forced out by people with vested interests in the taxi industry and the government was pressured to maintain the status quo.

Uber said it hoped the suspension of service would open the door for a “constructive dialogue” with stakeholders in Macau and explore ways to serve the city again.

The company added that it had already entered initial discussions with business partners, including transport operators and hotels.

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

Uber’s bumpy journey in Macau is also a reflection of the car-hailing giant’s bitter battle in Hong Kong, where 22 drivers were arrested in May in an undercover police operation.

Uber Hong Kong, which was founded three years ago and has so far served a million riders, had repeatedly called on the government to regulate it so it may operate legally.

But the government has refused and ­insists it must abide by current laws, which limit the number of hire car ­permits to 1,500 and do not cater to its business model.

Secretary for Innovation and Technology ­Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung warned last month: “Anyone operating illegal businesses in the name of the ‘sharing economy’ is ­unacceptable.”