Uber boss claims drivers returning three months after police crackdown in Hong Kong

But one Uber driver questioned validity of claims arguing that passengers are often 6 to 7km away which suggests shortage continues

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 8:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 9:10pm

Uber drivers who went offline in Hong Kong after a police sting three months ago are getting back behind at the wheel, a senior official at the rideshare app has said, insisting it remains undeterred by warnings from authorities.

Uber Hong Kong general manager Kenneth She said on Tuesday many had been put off after 22 drivers were arrested on suspicion of driving without a hire car permit and third-party insurance during a high-profile operation in May.

She said the firm was disappointed by the government’s stance, but would continue to liaise with authorities to work out a solution.

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“We are disappointed by the police operation. There is robust demand for our service and the public wishes to see Uber legitimised one day,” She said when asked about the affect of the arrests.

Uber has started to gain a foothold in the city’s transport market – especially those who prefer a premium service – but its mode of operation remains illegal in Hong Kong.

On the back of drivers’ growing call for better income security, Uber last week raised fares by as much as 80 per cent to HK$45 for the cheapest ride. The increase includes a HK$5 booking fee for each ride, which She believes will have a minimal long-term affect.

An Uber driver, who asked not to be named, questioned the validity of She’s claims.

He estimated the number of drivers remained 20 to 30 per cent lower than they used to be.

“Sometimes we’re asked to pick up passengers from 6 to 7km away – if there are that many drivers surely there would be one closer,” he said.

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The driver, a retiree, said he also went offline for about a month after the arrests.

“My family is always against me driving Uber. But I think the job is meaningful – I always get compliments from my passengers about our good service.”

He added a recent fare hike, which bumped up the minimum fare by HK$10-15 and added a HK$5 booking fee, had little affect on both passengers and drivers.

“Most of my customers take long journeys. They won’t be bothered by the HK$10 difference.”

The car-hailing app even aims to further broaden its reach among the community by rolling out a scheme to allow senior citizens travel at discounted rates, signalling its confidence for the Hong Kong market. UberSENIOR launched on Tuesday.

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“About one in six Hongkongers are now aged 65 or above, and the ratio will continue to go up in the years to come,” he said. Uber offers a HK$50 discount for trips taken by senior citizens on the first day of each month between September and December.

The cheapest fare structure – UberX – will be adopted while non-elderly passengers can also hop on board.

But the discount is limited to two rides per day, and such trips must be made between 11am and 4pm.

Uber emphasised bookings can be made on the elderly riders’ behalf – meaning the technology can be left to younger family members.

“Our service is also safe and reliable – details of the drivers are always shown on the screen, while the cars are tracked by GPS so the family members can keep an eye on the location,” She said.