Thu, Aug 23, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Lawmakers, unions call for regulations on Uber

UNFAIR:The number of licensed taxi cabs are limited by law and taxi drivers need to pass tests before they can begin work, but Uber is free of such restrictions

By Ann Maxon  /  Staff reporter

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators, as well as taxi driver unions, yesterday called on the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to improve regulations on Uber Technologies Inc’s ride-sharing service to alleviate its effects on the taxi industry after four taxi drivers committed suicide in 10 days allegedly due to financial hardship.

On Aug. 9, two taxi drivers from New Taipei City’s Sindian District (新店), a 51-year-old man surnamed Huang (黃) and a 52-year-old man surnamed Lee (李), committed suicide together.

Six days later, a taxi driver, surnamed Huang (黃), 63, was found dead in a parking lot in Taipei’s Nangang District (南港) after he allegedly hanged himself.

On Sunday, a 52-year-old taxi driver surnamed Su (蘇) from New Taipei City’s Tucheng District (土城) committed suicide by burning charcoal.

DPP Legislator Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清) told at a news conference at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei that the city might be witnessing a trend similar to the one in New York City, where six taxi drivers committed suicide between November last year and March allegedly due to mounting financial pressure caused by the rising popularity of ride-sharing apps.

A lack of regulation on Uber’s services has forced licensed taxi drivers to compete with the company on unequal terms, making it increasingly difficult for them to survive, Cheng said.

While there are legal restrictions on the number of taxis and taxi drivers are required to pass tests and background checks before they can start work, Uber drivers are not subject to similar regulations, he said.

“Their [Uber cars’] rates are not regulated and their numbers are not controlled,” he said.

To evade regulations, Uber has been marketing its services as a car-rental service with a hired driver, but using rental cars to provide taxi services contravenes Article 34 of the Highway Act (公路法), National Confederation of Drivers’ Unions vice president Cheng Li-chia (鄭力嘉) said.

The company had in February last year ceased its operations in Taiwan after being fined NT$2.5 billion (US$81.35 million at the current exchange rate) for offering illegal passenger transportation services, but it relaunched its services two months later by partnering with licensed car-rental operators.

“All we ask is that the strict regulations that apply to us are also applied to Uber drivers, because they are not, and that is very unfair,” taxi driver Chen Tung-hua (陳棟華) said.

Taxi drivers’ incomes have decreased since Uber’s relaunch, he said, adding that it has become difficult for them to earn even NT$30,000 a month after deducting gas, maintenance and other overheads.

Uber also owes the government NT$500 million in taxes, KMT Legislator Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生) said.

Legislators across party lines agree that the ministry needs to step up its efforts to regulate Uber, he said, adding that they would freeze the ministry’s budget if it continues to dodge the issue.

The Directorate-General of Highways has been cracking down on breaches of traffic regulations and Uber has paid more than NT$70 million of the NT$2.5 billion fine, agency official Huang Ling-ting (黃鈴婷) said.

Over the past year, the number of car-rental companies partnering with Uber has fallen from 207 to 133, ministry official Wang Chi-chou (王基洲) said, adding that the ministry would work with the taxi industry to improve regulations on taxi cabs and Uber cars.

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