|Uber office in Cheung Sha Wan. Photo: SCMP Pictures|
Printed my letter
in yesterday's South China Morning Post,
under the headline above and uncut:
Robert Boxwell certainly has a way with scare words ("Uber pushy
", August 26).
He lambasts Uber for throwing "bombs" at local laws; for "clogging" streets with "gypsy cabs", with some drivers having convictions for "sexual assault". Uber coders "blow up billions of dollars of Hong Kong investment " by "stomping on the necks of hard-working taxi drivers" and "cutting corners on safety". But Boxwell's vitriol doesn't stand up to scrutiny. It is unclear whether local laws specifically prohibit Uber-type car-hailing services, but in any case Uber has offered to work with Hong Kong lawmakers.
Uber cars are not clogging streets. Most already operate as limousines, filling in their spare time with Uber, a more efficient use of their assets. Uber cars are hardly "gypsy cabs"; most are modern Mercedes or Alphards, intrinsically safer than the older Toyota taxis.
Taxi drivers whose necks are allegedly stomped on are in fact working with Uber, which has an "Uber taxi" service providing more work for taxi drivers. For this reason, the price of a taxi licence in Hong Kong has been only marginally affected since Uber opened in mid-2014.
I doubt Boxwell has ever used Uber in Hong Kong. He claims that if the customer doesn't tip, or winds up the window, the Uber driver will give them only one star.
News for Boxwell: we generally don't tip in Hong Kong and usually drive with the window up. I've used Uber 48 times since June 2014. I have never given a tip and keep windows up - my average Uber rating is five stars.
Boxwell states that Beijing won't be influenced by Uber's "propaganda" and so can't "build scale". News for Boxwell: Uber has already built scale, including in four Chinese cities.[*]
This issue should not be one of either taxis or Uber. It should be taxis and Uber. Sometimes one uses taxis, sometimes Uber. This is more choice for consumers, which Hongkongers clearly want.
I have a simple suggestion for the government. Handle it by the Taoist concept of wu wei - do nothing. In response to pressure by taxi owners, refuse to send in the police. Tell the owners to improve their service.
In the US, cities have allowed Uber to do business despite similar arm-twisting by taxi owners, the sort of philosophy that makes the US more innovative than Hong Kong. Let it happen, wu wei.
[*] Update Wall Street Journal 4-6 September: Uber operates in 16 cities in China, with 45 more planned in next year. So much for Boxwell's claim that Uber won't build scale in China because of its tactics