Uber fights back in Taiwan, tells president: let the people decide

REUTERS/Toby Melville/Illustration/Files

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Uber Technologies urged Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to let the island’s people decide whether they want Uber services, the latest salvo in the wrangle between the authorities there and the global ride-hailing service company.

Uber’s comments were made in an open letter to the island’s president posted on its website on Thursday.

They came after transport authorities said this week they would ask Apple and Google to pull Uber’s apps available in Taiwan from their app stores, including UberEATS, its newest meal takeaway service.

Late last month, Taiwan’s cabinet said policymakers had reached a consensus on raising potential fines that would affect Uber’s operations in the island from at most T$150,000 ($4,707.36) now to as much as T$25 million.

“These developments directly threaten the interests of over a million Taiwanese citizens, especially the mothers, fathers, retirees, professionals, and the otherwise unemployed who have come to rely on the economic opportunities Uber has created,” Uber said in the letter signed by Mike Brown, regional general manager of Uber Asia Pacific.

Uber operates in Taiwan as an internet-based technology platform rather than as a transportation company, which Taiwanese authorities have said is a mis-representation of its service and ordered it to pay back taxes. However, Uber has said it complies with local regulations, including paying its taxes.

Uber has been facing similar legal scrutiny in markets across Asia. It entered the Taiwan market in 2013, and its growing popularity has triggered anger from domestic taxi drivers, who staged a massive protest against Uber earlier this year.

Appealing to Tsai’s push to turn the island into a Silicon Valley in Asia, Uber said it wanted to bring more services, like tech-powered carpooling and self-driving vehicles, to the island.

Taiwan’s existing laws are a “poor fit for new technologies and business models”, Uber said in its letter, adding that the actions against Uber also deter entrepreneurs and foreign investment.

“We have submitted multiple proposals and updates in an effort to demonstrate our commitment to working together to recognize, and regulate, ridesharing, which is an entirely new technology and business model for Taiwan,” it said.

“So we ask you, President Tsai, to please guide the dialogue on innovation, by convening a public hearing on ridesharing and letting Taiwan decide,” Uber said.

Uber’s Taiwan general manager Likai Gu told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday that the company remains optimistic about a “positive resolution” of the issues in Taiwan.

There are over 10,000 driver partners registered on Uber’s platform in Taiwan, estimated Gu. He said drivers must register with a Taiwanese ID card, which means the individual is a citizen, and a valid Taiwanese driver’s license.

“That doesn’t necessarily equate to jobs, but it’s people who decide that their current income opportunities are not enough,” said Gu.

“They want to convert these cars into something that helps them earn additional income, instead of something that becomes a financial burden.”

($1 = 31.8650 Taiwan dollars)

(Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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