Uber flouts new Thailand restrictions in Bangkok
Wed 10 Dec 2014
In the light of the arrest of an Uber driver in New Delhi for raping a passenger, the San Francisco-based ‘amateur-taxi’ service seems to be ignoring Thailand’s subsequent restrictions on the services that Uber may offer in the region – and if true, it would be consistent with Uber’s history of ignoring bans and regulations in cities where it has sought to gain market-share, but fallen foul of local regulations.
Yesterday Thai authorities banned Uber from allowing private, unlicensed drivers to continue taking Uber fares in Thai cities where the company operates. The 2,000 baht fine imposed for breaking the revised regulation – which amount is equivalent to £38 ($61) – is dissuasive at local economic levels, where the average wage is 24,000 baht ($8,200) per annum.
But apparently, not dissuasive enough: as of 6.15pm GMT (1:15 am in Thailand) the Uber website shows that the full range of chauffeur services is available, including its cheapest and most controversial, UberX, in which drivers use their own vehicles and are unlicensed.
Also, according to Tech In Asia, the Uber App still shows ‘UberX’ cars available for hire after the ban came into force:
Though Shiv Kumar Yadav, the Uber driver currently being investigated for last Friday’s reported rape incident in New Delhi is widely thought to have participated in the scheme at this lowest ‘UberX’ level, the status of his agreement with Uber has not been released.
Teerapong Rodpraert, Director-General of Land Transport Department, said that unlicensed ‘black plate’ vehicles (private cars) are banned from Uber’s operations in Thailand.
However, there has been some confusion in reports over Uber’s breach of the Thailand ban because both Uber and Thailand use the word ‘black’ to express the idea of taxi or chauffeur services – but in very different ways.
Thailand employs a perversely complicated system of size and type/background colour combinations to denote the status of the vehicle. Licensed taxi number-plates use black type on a yellow background; private cars use black type on a white background; and there are seven other possible license-plate colour combinations covering every type of vehicle from tricycle taxis through to rental cars and agricultural vehicles.
Uber treats ‘black’ rather differently, denoting the top three of its five levels of service, which increase in price from ‘UberX’ (‘amateur taxi drivers’), ‘Taxi’ (licensed taxi drivers) through to the top three ‘luxury’ options, ‘Black’, ‘Suv’ and ‘Lux’. The colouring of the cars as advertised only adds to the confusion:
Since Thailand depends on its intricate and complex license-plate colouring system to clearly identify ‘safe’ vehicles, and since Uber’s model effectively wrecks that system, the controversial rental firm seems to be using the confusion to continue to continue to operate without restriction in Bangkok.
In August Uber similarly ignored a ban in Berlin, describing it as “not progressive”, later altering its agreement with the city to redefine itself as a ‘ride sharing’ service. At least in McDonalds, you can pretty much count on the pickle in the Big Mac anywhere in the world.