Is Uber illegal or is the law too outdated?

July 11, 2015 08:09
Uber has suspended its low-cost UberPop service in France in a bid to soothe an ongoing conflict with taxi drivers in the country. Photo: Bloomberg

Thanks to the "go slow" protest staged by local taxi drivers earlier this week, Uber is now the most popular app in Hong Kong, according to top app lists in Apple Store and Android's Play Store.

On social media, people have shared unpleasant experiences they encountered when taking the traditional cabs. Following the intense debate, "unpleasant taxi ride" has become etched into netizens' collective memory.

In a reflection of the deep concerns, EJ Insight too has received some feedback from the public. Among the messages was one from a person who has complained that he was being treated poorly by local taxi drivers because he was an African.

On Tuesday, the Legislative Council's transport panel held a public hearing on the taxi industry. During the hearing, around 50 industry representatives expressed their resentment towards Uber. They accused the firm of operating an unlicensed car-rental business in Hong Kong.

Apart from asking the government to ban Uber's operation in Hong Kong, the taxi industry representatives also called on authorities to open up more restricted zones for picking up and dropping off passengers.

Other demands included scrapping the current taxi fare adjustment mechanism and allowing the traditional cab operators to introduce luxury taxis.

Government authorities have taken note of the demands from the taxi operators, but there is little sign so far that the administration has any plan to ban Uber in Hong Kong.

Since founder Travis Kalanick set up his Uber business in 2009, the group has been facing legal challenges from all over the world as it expands.

Priscilla Chan, the founder of Speakers Connect, which provides a database of speakers, raised the question whether Uber's operation is really illegal.

"Law often fails to catch up with the technology development," Chan wrote.

She takes the stored-value smart card—Octopus card in Hong Kong as an example. The smart card was officially rolled out in the market in 1997; however, it had to wait until 2000 to be granted the operator license from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

Governments' reactions to the emergence of Uber have been mixed across the world.

Some places such as Berlin and Brazil have banned the business, while Philippines has adopted a more welcoming approach by revising the law to make Uber’s operation legal in the country. It is the first country to legalize the car-hailing app in the world.

Taxi unions in various places have complained that Uber services have been eating into their incomes.

Taxi companies in France, for instance, have staged a series of strikes. Although a court ruled last year that it is illegal for Uber to provide some of its services in the country, the company is now appealing the decision.

Last Friday, Uber suspended its low-cost UberPop service in the country in order to soothe the ongoing conflict, after French taxi drivers staged a huge anti-Uber protest and locked down Paris at the end of last month.

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EJ Insight writer