Taiwan: ‘Decide to Disrupt or be Disrupted'

Taiwan: ‘Decide to Disrupt or be Disrupted'
Photo Credit:UberEATS
What you need to know

Kicking out companies like Uber, UberEats, Gogovan and LaLaMove is not a solution, argues opposition lawmaker Jason Hsu.

Since its founding in 2009, Uber has been both a disruptive innovation and destructive lawbreaker all over the world. Taiwan is no exception. Over the course of four years, the ride-sharing startup has collected over NT$150 million (US$4.7 million) in fines and is facing numerous other charges.

Uber is seen as a threat to the traditional taxi industry, which is highly regulated and run by licensed companies. However, Uber is popular among the younger generation who are used to using mobile phones to organize their daily activities such as requesting rides, ordering food and banking.

Without owning a single fleet of cars, Uber calls itself a technology company that allows riders and drivers to match each other via its platform. However, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Communication (MOTC), Uber is operating in violation of Public Road Law Article 23, which stipulates a company like Uber must register as transportation business entity and its drivers and cars obtain professional vehicle licenses.

As a legislator who cares deeply about innovation and the startup ecosystem, I have been following this issue closely and organized a testimony hearing to solve the dispute but to no avail. The MOTC decided to up its fines by raising the maximum penalty to NT$25 million per charge. UberEats, the food delivery service run by the company, is also facing dozens of potential fines since its first day of operation this month.

Taiwan government’s pushback on Uber is seen as an unfriendly signal by the startup community. With the hefty penalties, other sharing-economy startups such as GoGoVan and Lalamove fear the same fate. Kicking out these companies is not a solution. It will only oppress the startup ecosystem in Taiwan, as more and more sharing-economy services pop up overseas.

At the core of Uber’s dispute with the taxi industry is the government’s resistance to embrace technology and think “out-of-the-box.”

The government should work to create a mechanism whereby companies like Uber can operate legally and traditional transportation companies’ rights can be protected. Its role is to create a fair and sound competition for all businesses and put the consumers’ welfare and safety as the first priority. In this case, no such legal framework is in place yet.

As a solution, I am working to enact a “Digital Economy Act,” which will include basic governing principles under which digital economy companies can be regulated and provided with room for innovation.

Uber isn’t here just to disrupt the taxi industry; it’s here to create a whole new terrain for digital economies to take shape. At the end of day, we all have to decide whether we want to disrupt or to be disrupted.

Editor: Edward White