Sun, Apr 28, 2019 - Page 3 News List

Uber and ministry in deadlock over amendment

Staff writer, with CNA

The Uber logo outside corporate headquarters in San Francisco, California, is pictured on Feb. 5 last year.

Photo: AFP

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) and ride-hailing company Uber have failed to resolve their differences over a proposed amendment that would prohibit Uber from using its current operating model in Taiwan.

With the 60-day consultation period for the proposal having concluded on Friday last week, the ministry said that it would review public comments received, conduct a final review and draft measures to cover Uber drivers who might want to become taxi drivers before the rules take effect.

“Our directive remains unchanged. Under the amendment, Uber must choose between operating as a rental car company or becoming a taxi company to continue its service model,” Department of Railways and Highways specialist Hu Ti-chi (胡迪琦) said.

The proposed changes announced in February would prohibit drivers who partner with rental car companies — who Uber has been working with over the past two years — from driving around looking for passengers, or waiting for fares at taxi stands or in other areas.

Fares would have to be charged by the hour or the day, according to the proposed amendment to Article 103-1 of Transportation Management Regulations (汽車運輸業管理條例), dubbed the “Uber clause.”

Under Uber’s current model — a compromise reached with the government to allow it to continue to operate in Taiwan — it is supposed to use drivers who get cars from rental companies or who register their own vehicles with the companies.

However, the government decided to go after Uber when taxi drivers complained that the Uber model was simply a taxi service under another name and was hurting their business.

The amendment would likely remove Uber’s main advantages in Taiwan.

While it is uncertain when the amendment would be enacted, Hu said that the ministry has no plans to hold further talks with Uber, although the US-based company has asked.

The ministry later said in a statement that it talked with all stakeholders — Uber, rental car companies and taxi companies — during the consultation period.

If Uber wants to operate as it does now, it should be covered by the ministry’s “multi-purpose taxi program,” Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said on Tuesday last week.

The program would permit flexible rates with a minimum fare base, without making Uber alter its general service model, including the appearance of its vehicles, Wang said.

Uber would only need to invest NT$5 million (US$161,776) to set up a taxi company, while the company’s 10,000 drivers would need to take a test to obtain a taxi service operating permit to go with the taxi driver’s license that they already hold, Wang said.

However, Uber has always insisted that it is a technology company, not a transportation firm, and that it should not be subject to transportation laws.

Uber Asia-Pacific public policy director Emilie Potvin criticized the ministry, saying that it was “shoveling clouds” — meaning that the ministry’s statements lacked details, timetables or technical solutions.

“What a responsible government should do right now is to appoint someone who can lead a consultation process, get everybody at the table,” she said on Wednesday last week, adding that Uber has never been invited to participate in talks.

In a statement, Uber said that “despite our efforts to communicate a win-win solution, we feel that a fair resolution is still some way off,” referring to the consultation period closing on Friday.

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