From the ashes of Uber, illegal cabs enjoy revival

B資James-Lo, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Uber Taiwan, after four years of illegal operations, suspended operations on Feb. 10 in the face of mounting government fines. The government had handed the firm a NT$831 million (approx. US$25.2 million) bill for 35 separate violations of Taiwan’s transportation laws. The suspension announcement drew criticism from both local Uber drivers and riders, with a significant coterie of the ride-sharing firm’s drivers protesting outside of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications on the day of the suspension, and again on Feb. 26. However, the 300 drivers that turned up at the Feb. 26 protest represented only a fraction of those working through Uber. So where were the rest?

The answer lies in the new underground service which has aggressively risen in the wake of Uber Taiwan’s demise. While some drivers were protesting, most had either gone back to their day jobs, or began picking up customers using a service combining Uber’s business model, social media messaging apps and the old practice of running unlicensed gypsy cabs.

Even before the suspension of Uber, some drivers had started to pick up fares through the popular messaging app “Line.”

This allowed the drivers to make a little money on the side without having to revenue share their income with Uber.

“When my friends and family found out that I was (driving) Uber, some began to ask me for discounts,” said a driver who wished to remain unnamed. “So I did some research, and I realized that some of my fellow drivers were doing that. I started to do discount cash payments for my friends and family, and soon I joined a Line group where we do pick up customers at a price even lower than Uber with cash transactions. With Uber gone, my group has increased our price to meet Uber’s rates, which is still lower than a cab.” Following the service’s suspension, drivers who had already been taking on private customers began to recruit others who had not participated in the service previously to form numerous groups on Line. While services and rates provided by different groups vary, they share many elements from their Uber days nonetheless.

“I am a driver for many groups,” said a driver who only wished to be identified as Akira.

“While they all require customers to provide the pickup location and destination as well as time, different groups have different rates. One of the groups I am in requires us to calculate the fare to customers before they confirm, while most just go by the meter. We basically restart the meter on our car, show them the rate chart at the end of the ride and get our money. Honestly I still prefer working for Uber. Sure we get more money out of rides, but we have less business out of competition, which was why I am in many groups. Also, having to have change and also being a hygiene freak myself, I really don’t like these cash transactions.” “I am actually a founder of my group,” said Mr. He, a group founder who wished his group and his name to remain anonymous.

“People call us illegal, but people have to eat, right? When Uber started we all found it to be convenient. And to be frank, we are so much cleaner and safer than taxis. So when Uber ended, a couple of friends and I got together and started our group. And like Uber, we expect only the best drivers, so all drivers in my group had to have had an above four-star rating from their Uber days.”