SPAD treads carefully with Uber despite grouses

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KUALA LUMPUR: Although it has received a large number of complaints about Uber, the company offering transport service through a smartphone application, the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) is dealing with the issue cautiously as the service is popular.

Its chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar said on top of the complaints, the commission had also received memorandums from taxi drivers in the Klang Valley who claimed Uber had affected their income.

“We have received complaints and memorandums from taxi drivers about Uber. And it is not a small number,” he told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

Syed Hamid said the fact that Uber was operating with private cars that have no operating licences was already against current public transport laws.

“As far as I know, they also do not have public liability insurance which puts the safety of passengers at risk,” he said.

“They are working outside the system as they are not like TaxiMonger. I have seen their advertisement in newspapers calling for those with extra cars to register and drivers to work for them,” said Syed Hamid.

He added that he had raised the concerns about Uber at a Cabinet committee meeting on tourism recently.

On Sunday, Gabungan Persatuan dan Syarikat-Syarikat Teksi Semenanjung Malaysia (Gabungan) called on SPAD to take action against Uber.

Gabungan deputy president Datuk Mohd Alias Abdul said other than SPAD, the police, Road Transport Department and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission should also work together to address the issue, which had affected incomes of taxi drivers in the Klang Valley.

“The company does not have any business licence or office in Malaysia but has been operating in dozens of cities around the world through the Internet and smartphone applications,” said Mohd Alias.

“What’s worrying is that Uber does not have a taxi permit issued by SPAD and it is also believed that its drivers do not have the public service vehicle licence,” Bernama quoted him as saying.

However, Syed Hamid said Uber was very popular in Malaysia because of its excellent service, adding that this was one reason why the issue had to be looked into very carefully.

“We are still gathering facts about this and studying the matter to see what kind of laws have been breached and what action to take.

“We will have to get our facts right before taking any action as it would not be fair to Uber and especially since the application is widely popular in Malaysia.

“I know of people who use the Uber services, including ministers, who have been very happy with them. They are very satisfied with its service,” he said.

Syed Hamid said the popularity of the Uber application was an indication that the public wanted good taxi services and would not depend on regular taxis if their services were not up to mark.

“Although we like any improvements to the public transportation system, they must be within the system. We cannot have them operating outside it.”

The former home minister said Uber had been banned in several other cities including in Brussels, Belgium. South Korea is also looking to ban it in the near future, citing passenger safety and the threat to the livelihood of licensed taxi drivers as reasons.

Besides that, in June, more than 10,000 taxi drivers from several cities in Europe took to the streets to protest against Uber.

Uber began as a startup in San Francisco, United States. The service has extended to 44 countries.

Uber’s transport service in the Klang Valley has been available since last year.

Apart from the website, the service was also made available through Facebook and Twitter.

One of the key benefits of Uber is its cash-less experience.

A registered user just has to provide a credit or debit card to his/her Uber account when signing up for the service and Uber will subsequently charge the customer after each ride.

Uber is charging RM2 for every kilometre with a starting charge of RM7 and a minimum charge of RM13 for a trip via Uber Black premium transport service. The Uber X budget transport service, however, starts at RM1.50 and a minimum charge of RM2.50.

The company’s fares are fixed at RM68 for a one-way trip from Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Putrajaya, RM270 for Uber Black and RM80 for Uber X from KL to KL International Airport, and RM150 from KL to Genting Highlands, Pahang.

Earlier this month, Uber head of Asia-Pacific expansion Chan Park said that contrary to popular belief, Uber was not a transport provider but a technology company providing an app solution to help match a customer with a licensed transport provider.

Likening Uber to online services such as Expedia and Agoda, Park said that in every city where the app is available, Uber has worked with existing and new licensed transport providers to match the needs of its registered customers. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 27, 2014.