Mon, Aug 26, 2013 - Page 14 News List

FEATURE: Uber aims to shake up taxi market

By Helen Ku  /  Staff reporter

A taxi drives past retail stores in Taipei on July 26.

Photo: Jerome Favre, Bloomberg

As Taiwan’s economy slowly evolves toward a greater reliance on the output of its service sector, many taxi firms are seeking to differentiate their services by upgrading their vehicles or rolling out smartphone apps offering “e-hailing” services.

Two years after the nation’s largest and second-largest cab service providers, Taiwan Taxi Co (台灣大車隊) and M-Taxi Co Ltd (大都會衛星車隊), launched apps allowing customers to provide a location where they need to be picked up, Uber Technologies Inc, a US-based company, last month launched its own app in Taiwan.

According to the company’s motto, Uber aims to be “everyone’s private driver,” and while the Taiwanese taxi market is currently over-supplied, Uber aims to gain a competitive edge by using BMW and Mercedes-Benz sedans.

“Uber brings residents in different cities tailored high-class ‘taxi’ services,” the company’s chief operating officer Ryan Graves told the Taipei Times in an interview on July 29.

After rolling out its service in major cities including New York, Paris and London, Uber chose Taipei to be its 37th city, he said.

For users of mobile devices running Apple Inc’s iOS or Google Inc’s Android mobile operating systems, Uber’s app presents a map on which several black sedans are seen moving along Taipei streets, or standing by waiting for an assignment.

If a “pin” is dropped on the map in Neihu District (內湖), for example, the app gives information about the distance between the pin and the closest Uber car, the time for the car to arrive and the driver’s profile, as well as his or her driving record and passenger reviews.

From Neihu, a short trip in an Uber car to a destination such as Taipei 101 in Xinyi District (信義), costs about NT$700, up to four times the average price of a standard taxi fare for the same distance.

Given the tradeoff between the experience it offers and the impact on customers’ wallets, Uber has received mixed feedback.

“Uber’s pricing method is unacceptable to me,” Taipei resident Hsu Wei-ting (徐薇婷) said.

As a regular cab user taking taxis about five times a month, Hsu said Uber’s service may seem attractive, but she would only use the company if it offered more luxurious cars to persuade her that the cost is justified.

In addition, as Uber requires customers to provide their credit card details when signing up for membership, some people may be concerned about personal information security, she said.

“The relatively high cost to use Uber lowers my interests in its app, although it does manage to differentiate itself from typical yellow cab offerings,” she said.

Cheng Li-chia (鄭力嘉), the chairman of a Taipei taxi driver’s union, said Uber’s billing process should be assessed by the government and made clear to customers.

“Uber is actually providing customers the same kind of services that we do,” Cheng said.

“It is against the law for a taxi not to display its pricing structure during each fare... If Uber aims to compete with local taxis, it needs to play by the same rules,” he added.

Playing down the competition from Uber, Cheng said Taipei’s taxi market is oversupplied, which is one of the reasons the minimum fare has remained at NT$70 for so long.

“Despite challenges from the growing convenience of Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transport system, many people still chose to make a living as taxi drivers,” Cheng said, citing the union’s own study that showed there is on average a taxi to every 90 people living in Taipei, while in Singapore there is a taxi to every 280 residents.

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