Uber or premium, just get us there!

Editorial | 9 Jun 2017

Transport chief Anthony Cheung Bing- leung didn't name Uber when he effectively slammed the door shut on the car-hailing service provider's bid for a share of the public transport market.

Was Cheung tryingto be courteou?

That didn't appear to be the case if closer attention is paid to what he had to say when presenting a report on the long- term development of public transport in Hong Kong, which included 14 broad measures covering buses, light rail, taxis, trams and ferries.

For conspicuous by its absence from Cheung's report is the car-sharing mode that is gaining popularity in many places all over the world.

In being asked specifically about Uber's future, Cheung said, without naming the car-hailing hit app, that the firm could choose to operate like existing taxi companies before criticizing it for being unwilling to be regulated under the established mechanism.

He said the company just didn't want to be regulated and that no government would allow this to happen.

Cheung was absolutely right to point out that public transport should be subjected to regulation of some kind - buses are covered by franchises; railway companies by ordinances; airlines by local and international civil aviation codes; and taxis by licensing regimes.

However, Uber - or the service module of which it is a standout representative - belongs to none of the above.

Uber and the rivals that it has spawned do not own fleets of vehicles. They merely match drivers and people wanting rides. It's a new service that doesn't fit into any of the traditional models that authorities here or elsewhere are familiar with.

Does that mean the innovative car- hailing service should come to an end of the road in the SAR? Users may not wish the service to end, due to the convenience and quality they offer.

While the transport czar seemed to be non-committal in his reply, as he said it would all hinge on the outcome of the deliberations by lawmakers on a government plan to introduce franchised premium taxi services to the transport market, the writing was already on the wall when 22 drivers were arrested in a high-profile operation for allegedly picking up passengers without a car-for-hire permit and third- party insurance.

The red light that represents couldn't be clearer.

On the one hand, the administration is moving forward steadily with the launch of the new premium taxi service in spite of resistance from traditional plyers of the trade. On the other, police are stepping up their crackdown on car- hailing services to pacify taxi owners and clear the way for premium taxis.

Cheung's determination isn't to be underestimated even though he bids farewell to his government stint in three weeks.

In spite of all the political pressures - including protests by taxi owners and a public relations stunt by Uber of an online petition that is asserted to have drawn support from over 12,000 people - the issue is all about convenience and reliability.

If these essential qualities are safeguarded and fully reflected in public transport, it wouldn't really matter whether it is called Uber or a premium taxi.

End users are more concerned about the service they are paying for than the people or companies behind the wheel.

Search Archive

Advanced Search
May 2018

Today's Standard

Yearly Magazine

Yearly Magazine