Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan has said that the ride-sharing company Uber can operate in Hong Kong if they follow the law.

Dozens of Uber drivers have been arrested and charged with carrying passengers illegally for reward and not having third-party insurance. In March, five drivers were fined HK$10,000 each and had their driving licences suspended for 12 months.

The government also accused Uber of “deliberately breaking the law” and “acting irresponsibly in pursuit of commercial gain.”

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Frank Chan. File photo: InMedia.

Lawmaker Claudia Mo said the government had been very ambiguous about whether Uber was an illegal service, even after drivers were punished.

“You can’t keep making it ambiguous and keep delaying,” Mo said at a Panel on Transport meeting on Friday.

But Chan said in response: “If Uber follows Hong Kong legal requirements, it can operate legally.”

“For instance, they can apply for hire car permits – they can operate legally in Hong Kong by an online platform. You can see the information online,” he said. “Not just Uber, other online hire car companies had meetings with us, we have told all of them the same message. Some said they will consider it.”

“It’s just that some companies do not follow Hong Kong laws, so they insist on their own methods – we understand that, but Hong Kong is still a region of rule of law,” Chan added, without mentioning Uber.

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Police arrested five Uber drivers and withheld their cars. File

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam said that the hire car permits system may not fit with the current situation of operating the service in Hong Kong, as the bar was set too high.

Chan said the government should consider balance and management in the public transport system.

“We cannot allow some arrangement to disturb the effectiveness and the smoothness [of the system]. We understand that Uber in fact does not operate everywhere in the world – it was not allowed to operate in many South East Asian countries, or recently in London,” he said.

Commissioner for Transport Mable Chan said the government had improved the process of applying for hire car permits this year, but she stressed that new permit holders had to take care of passenger safety and insurance issues.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s first policy address had said that the government was making preparation for launching franchised taxis with “online-hailing” features.

Kris Cheng

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.