Hong Kong Police Crack Down on Uber Drivers

At least twenty-two drivers for ride-sharing service Uber have been arrested in Hong Kong. The arrests follow a three-week operation by police that included hiring Ubers to drive undercover agents around. The arrests were performed on the basis that the drivers did not have third-party insurance or hire car permits. This is not a new experience for Uber, which has seen many legal challenges to their expansion, often led by the taxi industry that they compete with. For instance, in 2015 Uber’s Hong Kong offices were raided after complaints from taxi operators.

This spate of arrests comes after five Uber drivers were convicted of not having the hire car permit in September 2016. Those drivers were each charged HK$ 10 000 and lost their driver’s licenses for a year. The drivers have appealed the ruling and, as a result, have had their license revocations suspended.

According to police, the new raid was “necessary” because the previous convictions had not stemmed the influx of new illegally-operating Uber drivers. Uber issued a statement that they stood with the newly-arrested drivers. They suggested that the charge leveled against the drivers of lacking insurance was not valid because Uber has a HK$ 100 million ride-share instance policy. They also expressed frustration with the current hire car permit system, stating that Hong Kong is failing to keep up with the innovation of ride-sharing. They contrast this current state of affairs with the activity of Hong Kong in the past: “Hong Kong is an international city known for its embrace of global economic trends and new technologies…”

The state of the hire car permit system is also the defense of the 5 drivers convicted in September. As the basis for their appeal, they argue that the local laws are not compatible with Uber’s mode of operation, and that they are therefore being restricted in their fundamental right to freedom of occupation. To gain one of the 1500 available hire car permits, they would have to only offer the service of pre-booked trips, not use radio in their operation, and report the extent to which the area they would like to serve is already serviced by public transit. All three of these requirements are not realistically compatible with Uber’s operations.

Following the arrests, Uber began offering the possibilities of winning prizes—Manchester United jerseys and plane tickets—to people who used their service. However, it seems that their focus was largely misplaced. Two days after the crackdown, it was reported that the cost of Uber was up to 2.5 times higher than normal because the supply of drivers had subsided. Many drivers have been deterred by the crackdown, and Uber has no way of compelling them to work. However, a source has reportedly told the South China Morning Post that Uber is blacklisting and blocking anyone confirmed to be an undercover agent, and considered but rejected not serving ride-seekers they suspected were police agents.

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