Face off: should Uber be legal in Hong Kong?

YP ReporterVeronica Lin

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week’s topic is ...

YP ReporterVeronica Lin |

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Veronica Lin, 17

Uber’s high level of flexibility, comfort and safety features means that the government should definitely allow it to legally operate in Hong Kong.

Before booking apps such as Uber existed, the only way to get a taxi was to frantically wave your hands in the air in the hopes of finding a rare vacant cab on the street. There were also companies you could call, but you had to pay a booking fee.

In contrast, Uber maximises flexibility, allowing its passengers to be picked up at any desired location, with a handy estimated time of arrival using your GPS.

And unlike a traditional taxi, Uber lets you know what your driver looks like, and gives you details about the vehicle as well as a clear quote for how much your ride will cost even before you get in the vehicle. This gives consumers power as we are more aware of what to expect during a given ride.

Compare this to the many horror stories of taxi drivers deliberately overcharging passengers (tourists in particular) and the fact that taxi drivers do not normally use a GPS to select the fastest route, and it’s clear Hong Kong needs some competition to keep the market honest and fair.

Besides, a safety issue that’s popped up in recent years is that most taxi drivers drive with their eyes fixed on multiple tablets and smartphones, instead of the road. Uber, on the other hand, actually uses software to seek out and send warnings to drivers who are actively using their electronic devices during a fare.

Admittedly, Uber fares are slightly pricier than normal taxis at the moment. But that will likely change as taxi companies are constantly applying to increase their fares (fares went up last month) under

the longstanding monopoly they are currently fighting to keep.

If paying a few extra dollars means a guaranteed safer, more comfortable ride, it really is a no-brainer that Uber is the better choice. Even if it’s not, shouldn’t Hongkongers at least be allowed to choose for themselves?

Anson Chan Pui-shing, 18, Carmel Secondary School

Many people think that Uber is a great alternative to traditional taxis as the company focuses on service. We’ve all read the stories of taxi drivers illegally overcharging passengers or treating them rudely.

However, the most important issue that everyone seems to ignore is that Uber has been unable to reach an agreement with the insurance companies to get third-party insurance for passengers.

This insurance coverage should have been reached before the car-hiring service launched in the city. Safety should always be the top priority. Who will look after passengers involved in any potential accidents?

Uber has also been known to quarrel with its drivers over worker rights. Many Uber drivers work on a temporary basis and do not enjoy any labour benefits or rights, such as minimum wage or holidays. If a company does not care about its employees’ welfare, how well can it run its business? Drivers won’t have any incentive to work hard and provide a high-quality, safe service if their own benefits are not guaranteed.

Uber does provide a choice for passengers. Some Uber drivers use luxurious private cars with cosy interiors to pamper their customers. However, there have been many complaints of Uber drivers not arriving at the correct location due to their lack of geographical knowledge. Think about it: would you rather be late in a really comfortable car, or actually arrive on time with a professional who knows the roads?

The taxi industry has just launched an app which will greatly improve the chance of finding a cab. Some taxis have also recently added a device to allow passengers to rate their drivers, and have even installed CCTV cameras to monitor the rides and gather feedback. These gestures show that the taxi industry is making sincere attempts to improve their customer service.

But Uber does not seem to consider passenger safety a priority, nor does it seem to be concerned about workers.

In short, it still has a long way to go before it should be made legal in Hong Kong.

Edited by Karly Cox