Friday, 2 June 2017

"Public wants Uber. Why the harassment?" | South China Morning Post

Let your fingers do the driving
My letter was published today in the South China Morning Post. 
I'm always very conscious -- and thankful -- that we're lucky here in Hong Kong: we have the luxury of publicly worrying about something as trivial as the rights and wrongs of a car-hailing service. And not about where our next meal is coming from or how to get to a near-barren shop while dodging sniper fire.
Syria is a constant reminder how a peaceful country -- just six years ago! --can slip into deadly anarchy virtually overnight. Before then it was a place where the average Muhammad & Aisha went about their normal lives: sending kids to school, going to work, picnics with friends.  
If you were an anti-government activist you could end up rotting in jail, sure. But for the majority life was peaceful and good. We had Syrian friends who told us this and encouraged us to visit Syria. "Especially Palmyra" they said.  Too late! Palmyra, that wonder of the ancient world is now laid to waste by murderous Islamist lunatics. That is to say, by pious, doctrinally-observant Muslims. 
I'd wager that the vast majority of Syrians would rather have back the peaceful if autocratic times, before the civil war, than the chaos now. Indeed they vote with their feet to tell us that. See Germany. 
So we must thank our secular gods that we here in Hong Kong remain safe and peaceful. And always remember that it's a fragile thing that must be treasured, this safe and peaceful freedom.  
That said, now my letter as published. One of the bigger points I make out of the Uber imbroglio here in Hong Kong is that we are increasingly falling behind in high tech. We used to lead. We had the Octopus contactless pay card, one of the first in the world and now used widely and imitated worldwide. We have an excellent subway, a world-beating airport and excellent public transport. But all these things are decades old. I can't think of anything new that this government has got behind in twenty years. The new cruise terminal is a white elephant. The Kowloon cultural district, pedestrian in concept and design, is woefully behind schedule. The government couldn't even handle electric bikes. They are not listed in the transport regulations so they were banned rather than update the regulations. 

That seems to be the government's attitude now to Uber. It's not in the transport regulations so sick the rozzers on 'em!

(That's not the only issue. There's the power of the transport lobby in the Legislative Council, which also has the ear of Beijing. Jake van der Kamp covers it well in "Give it up Uber!")

I have concluded from talking to friends and neighbours who have used Uber that the public loves the service. I'm sure a government consultation would confirm this.
The civil service is there to serve the public. Instead of harassing Uber ("22 Uber drivers arrested in undercover Hong Kong police operation", May 24), officials should be working with the company to regularise its popular service.
Legco's latest workaround of a premium franchised taxi service is aimed at the fat cats, given the minimum investment of 200 cars, at a cost of at least HK$60 million.
If Hong Kong wants to retain what's left of our increasingly tattered reputation for efficiency and modernity, the government needs to work with Uber.
We would then join the other 800 plus forward-thinking cities which have embraced modern technology.
Peter Forsythe, Discovery Bay