Police crackdown on Uber has evoked a mixed response among Hongkongers, with politicians and members of the public voicing objections while taxi representatives welcome the government’s action.

Uber, a mobile car service app, was targeted by authorities on Tuesday as police raided its office and took away three staffers and five drivers.

Following Tuesday’s raid, internet users started a social media campaign asking people to show support to the company by uploading their Uber receipts to Facebook. More than 400 people have joined the campaign. One user said that he purposely rode with Uber on Wednesday because he wanted to show his support.

Police inspected Uber Hong Kong’s office.

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok said, “The Hong Kong government and police have successfully put the Uber raid on international headlines. How can [the government] promote innovative initiatives?”

Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung told Ming Pao that the police might have consulted the Department of Justice before the move, but current laws are not clear as to whether Uber is an illegal business. Luk added that the arrested staff may not end up being prosecuted.

Keith Li, CEO of Hong Kong tech startup company Innopage, compared the raid with the Hong Kong government’s crackdown on internet service providers back in 1995. He said that the crackdown indirectly promoted the technology as the majority of Hongkongers had not heard about the internet at that time.

The arrested drivers and staff have been released on bail.

Taxi drivers smashed a taxi in a protest against illegal car hire companies.

To Sun-tong, a taxi representative of the Motor Transport Workers General Union, told HKFP, “We welcome the police’s operation, which has given hope to the taxi industry and may help revive our businesses.”

But To expressed concern about the upcoming prosecution process. “The Transport Department should observe the case carefully. If Uber is charged lightly at the end, the department will need to give suggestions on modifying laws so that Uber can operate legally in Hong Kong.”

In July, three taxi drivers’ unions staged a protest against taxi calling apps in Wan Chai. They smashed a taxi to express discontent with their business losses.

InvestHK has taken down the Uber article after the office raid.

InvestHK, the government’s business arm responsible for attracting foreign direct investment, published an article in May on its website calling Uber one of the “success stories” of international investment in Hong Kong.

Sam Gellman, who heads Uber’s Asia expansion, said in an interview with InvestHK, “Hong Kong is an incredible city, combining global commerce and local culture, large industry and startup entrepreneurship and innovation.”

In the article, InvestHK revealed that it had given Uber “significant support” for setting up business in the territory, including information on public transportation and advice on market entry strategy.

The article was taken down on Tuesday night after the authorities raided Uber’s office and arrested its staff.

A spokesman for InvestHK said on Wednesday, “As Uber is now being investigated for allegedly operating outside of the legal ambit, as a standard procedure InvestHK has removed the case study from its website.” He added, “It is the responsibility of the company concerned to ensure regulatory compliance.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.