18 April 2019
Brooks Entwistle says Uber is looking into opportunities including payments and bike-sharing. Photo: Bloomberg
Brooks Entwistle says Uber is looking into opportunities including payments and bike-sharing. Photo: Bloomberg

Uber’s new Asia chief wants to work with govts and taxi firms

Brooks Entwistle, who joined Uber as its chief business officer for Asia Pacific in August 2017, recently had an interview with TechCrunch. He revealed the company’s shift in strategy to partner with its former nemeses — governments and local taxi firms.

Entwistle, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs Southeast Asia, leads Uber’s business in Asia Pacific, minus China, where it sold to rival Didi, and India, where the firm is run by a dedicated country president.

The company has been rocked by a flurry of incidents in 2017, ranging from federal investigations into its business practices to reports of assaults and accidents, as well as scandals involving upper management. And in Asia, Uber needs to deal with ongoing skirmishes with regulators in several countries, and also faces stiff challenges from rival Grab, Go-Jek and Didi.

As a significant shift from Uber’s previous regimes which rivalled traditional taxis by being cheaper and easier to hail, Entwistle said during the interview: “We are actively looking to partner with taxi companies. In Taipei [where Uber worked with taxi partners], taxis are at 30 percent utilization, we can drive that [figure] up.”

He said that doing deals with the former foe is now “a big focus”.

The US firm has also changed from an aggressive strategy toward regulations in its homeland to a more conciliatory approach in Asia.

“I visit one or two countries a week to meet regulators and governments,” Entwistle told TechCrunch. “We talk solutions and are coming at this from a collaboration/partnership approach. The conversation feels like it is really changing.”

In the case of its recent launches in Yangon in Myanmar and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Uber sought endorsements from government officials and the US ambassadors of the respective countries.

“We launched fully in [Cambodia] in cooperation with the government,” he said, stating that “transportation officials were on stage and it is very much a partnership. I do think we have to work with them to provide solutions, and we are asking them in many cases what they need.”

“It’s about unlocking cities,” he said.

During the interview, Entwistle confirmed that the firm is looking into opportunities including payments and bike-sharing.

Asked whether Uber might do deals with payment companies, he said: “Already, we’re thinking about technologies and solutions across the region that will ease any transaction friction. We try to find whatever the best way to get people on to our app riding or driving.”

Uber already supports cash-based payments across much of Southeast Asia, in addition to India and parts of Africa.

While its rival, Didi Chuxing integrated the bike sharing service into its app as an alternative for commuters, Entwistle said it’s also “something we’re looking at.”

“We have a team [investigating bike-sharing options] from a business development standpoint,” he said.

According to Uber, Asia Pacific as a whole represents over 20 percent of its global trip volume. There are nearly 629,000 active drivers in the region, which it said is over 25 percent of its global driver network.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said recently in an event that it is losing money across the Southeast Asian region as a whole. “I’m not optimistic that market is going to be profitable anytime soon.”

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Once considered an enemy, taxi firms are viewed by Uber as potential partners in Asia. Photo: Reuters

EJ Insight writer

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