Despite legal woes, Uber says it has bounced back in Hong Kong

A taxi is reflected in a window at the office of taxi-hailing service Uber Inc in Hong Kong, China August 12, 2015.   REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
A taxi is reflected in a window at the office of taxi-hailing service Uber Inc in Hong Kong, China August 12, 2015. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

Uber this week released data for its year in Hong Kong which, you might have heard, has been a rough one, with ride-hailing services drawing the ire of the government for operating illegally.

Speaking at a Tuesday press conference, the US company’s general manager in Hong Kong, Kenneth She, said that moren than 1 million Hongkongers have signed up to the service, a third of which are considered active users, HK01 reported.

It was announced that the city’s most loyal Uber customer has taken 1,981 trips in the past three years; the record for most rides by a passenger in a day was 11; and the longest distance travelled by one person in 24 hours was 741 kilometers.

No surprise to Hongkongers who have tried to hail a cab on the weekends, Friday nights are the busiest time for Uber drivers in the city, the company said, while car orders peaked for the year on May 19, when the city’s Affordable Art Fair kicked off. 

Hongkongers also used the app regularly overseas, hailing rides in 588 cities in 80 countries, among which the US was the most visited.

At Tuesday’s press conference, She conceded the arrest of 22 Uber drivers in May for operating without a car hire permit had dealt a blow to the company’s Hong Kong operations, though the numbers of new drivers and passengers had bounced back, HK01 reported.

Twenty-one of the drivers arrested in the May undercover operation were charged in October, amid an ongoing debate about the status of ride-hailing services in Hong Kong.

Though the Transport and Housing Bureau said it was keeping an “open mind” about car-hailing services, the government’s current policy practically outlaws the practice.

The services, such as Uber, Ryde and Hopsee, are required to operate like traditional taxis and obtain one of the 1,500 hire-car permits allocated by the city. The permit’s strict criteria make them difficult for ride-hailing drivers to obtain one.

The company, though, this year announced a third-party insurance deal with insurer AIG as part of its bid to achieve legal status. That deal was recently extended, the SCMP reported.

A recent report by Hong Kong’s Consumer Council recommended the government reform the sector to make it easier for drivers from the firms to compete with taxis, which have become notorious for inflated fares and refusing to take passengers.

Unsurprisingly, taxi lobbies reacted negatively to the report and threatened to sue the government if it adopted the Consumer Council’s suggested measures.

However according to the SCMP, the taxi lobby said it was receptive to a proposal by She to “team up.”

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