Taiwan: The place Uber couldn’t crack

By Cindy Sui

BBC News, Taipei

Uber has suspended its ride-sharing services in Taiwan after a lengthy battle with the government.

Since launching four years ago, more than 15 million journeys have been booked through its app across just four Taiwanese cities.

Uber says it hopes to reach a resolution with the authorities that will allow it to resume operations.

While many cities, states and countries have sought to curtail Uber, stopping it operating is a rare occurrence.

So why has it failed to survive in Taiwan’s market and why it may not to be able to get back on the road easily?

It’s considered illegal

Uber is registered as an software company in Taiwan, not a transportation services provider. That makes its operations illegal, the government argues.

And because many Uber drivers do not have a professional driver’s licence. officials have said this makes its services potentially dangerous and puts passengers at risk.

Taiwan’s taxi drivers waged war against Uber

Taiwan has a very mature and organised taxi market, with 34,000 taxi companies (including individual operators) and many unions.

As we’ve seen in many parts of the world, taxi drivers were angry at Uber, whose 16,000 drivers won over passengers with their cheaper fares.

“They stole our business, hurting our income by 30%,” said Chen Deng, chairman of the Taipei City Taxi Passenger Transport Trade Association.

When the government began offering rewards of 10% of the $3,000 fine to anyone who reported an Uber driver, taxi drivers went undercover, posing as customers to book rides and using electronic receipts as evidence.

So far they’ve reported about 300 drivers.

“It’s mainly aimed at stopping their operation. They attacked us; we don’t want them to live,” Mr Chen said.

But some people were also enticed by the reward. Reporting just three Uber drivers a month would earn drivers as much as their typical monthly salary.

Uber was unregulated, uninsured, and untaxed

Taiwan’s government says it has no problem with Uber providing taxi services, as long as it agrees to be regulated, insured and taxed like other taxi service providers.

“If they agree to these conditions, we’d be very happy to cooperate with them,” said Liang Guo-guo, a spokesman for the Directorate General of Highways.

“But all along Uber says it’s only a platform provider and if any disputes, accidents or problems happen, it doesn’t take any responsibility. In Taiwan, if you provide transportation services, you need to take this responsibility.”

Taiwan imposed massive fines against Uber

Faced with taxi drivers’ complaints and protests, Taiwan passed a new law that came into effect on 6 January.

It raises the maximum fine against illegal transportation providers from around NT$150,000 ($4,687) to NT$25m ($780,000), the highest Uber has faced anywhere in the world.

Before the law came into effect Uber and its drivers had already been slapped with $3m (£2.4m) in fines. With the new law, it faced another $7m in penalties.

So is it all over?

Uber says that if it is to make a comeback in Taiwan, it depends on the government being supportive of the broader concept of ride sharing and the shared economy. on which Uber’s business model globally is based.

The campaign to keep Uber in Taiwan has been vocal

“Uber is a ride sharing company and we’d like to be registered as such,” Li Kai Gu, the general manager for Uber in Taiwan, told the BBC this week.

“The issue is that there is no regulation for ride sharing here in Taiwan because the concept itself has only come around in the last six or seven years, when ride sharing firms like ourselves have started.”

“The question now is – if the government does believe in the concept of ride sharing – we are more than happy to work with them in terms of finding the right regulations for companies like ourselves.”

Uber is used to controversy and, while popular with many passengers, has regularly clashed with authorities.

Last year a court in France fined Uber for running what it deemed an illegal transport service that used non-professional drivers.

In July 2016, Uber ceased operations in Hungary after state officials blocked internet access to the app, referring to it as an “illegal dispatcher service”.

Uber was founded in 2009 and says it now operates in more than 500 cities around the world.

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