Things could get ugly between Uber and Hong Kong taxi drivers

July 02, 2015 17:17
Uber offers generous bonuses to newly joined drivers in Hong Kong -- up to an extra HK$1,000 if they have taken five orders. Photo:HKEJ

App-based taxi booking firm Uber has been running into trouble everywhere.

The group is being challenged in Europe, mainland China and Hong Kong for operating without a license.

This week, the French government arrested two Uber executives in a widening crackdown on the company.

Earlier, a court in California ruled that an Uber driver is an employee, not an independent contractor.

The ruling means Uber may be forced to provide benefits such as health insurance and social security, as well as comply with an hourly wage, potentially costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

But these troubles are not stopping the company from further expansion.

In fact, it has been aggressively recruiting car owners and drivers in Hong Kong.

The rewards of being an Uber driver are quite attractive, so much so that car owners reportedly have been flooding into the Uber center in Cheung Sha Wan to sign up.

If you have a sedan and are willing take part in Uber's red-hot “sharing economy”, you could make HK$10,000 (US$1,290) a week, according to the company.

It said about 60 to 70 car owners register on its website every day.

Any licensed driver who owns a four-door vehicle under 10 years old can be part of the growing Uber family.

The house rules are straightforward -- shirt, tie, pants and black shoes for drivers, plus two bottles of drinking water and a USB port for their passengers.

Uber offers generous bonuses to newly joined drivers -- up to an extra HK$1,000 if they have taken five orders.

Those who have taken at least 18 orders during peak hours on a working day will receive an extra HK$1,500.

An Uber driver told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that he has a full-time job but he drives for Uber on weekends.

“Last Saturday, I took nine orders within 12 hours and got HK$1,700 in fares,” he said.

Uber received a 20 percent commission from the fares while he got HK$1,000 after deducting the cost of gasoline.

But not all Uber drivers are as lucky.

Some spend half a day on weekends without any order.

Uber has expanded its services from three to six categories in recent months.

Its newest addition, Uber X, is said to offer some of the lowest fares which are comparable to hiring a taxi.

Because more drivers are joining the Uber army, local taxi drivers are feeling the heat.

Their takings are down at least 20 percent, according to industry sources.

Ng Kwan-shing, convenor of a taxi industry concern group, accused Uber of illegally operating in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, stakeholders in the taxi industry are to hold an urgent meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation.

They're planning a protest when the Legislative Council transport panel meets on July 7.

If they're not satisfied with the government's response, they will escalate the action which might include blockades of highways and major roads.

In a worst-case scenario, they are prepared for clashes with their Uber rivals.

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EJ Insight writer