Uber’s Taiwan Suspension: 'Digital Minister' Responds

Uber’s Taiwan Suspension: 'Digital Minister' Responds
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
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Amid an ongoing regulatory battle with the government, Uber today said it would suspend operations in Taiwan.

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Uber’s suspension of its ride-sharing operation in Taiwan is part of an ongoing process to set acceptable norms around transportation, according to a government minister.

Amid an ongoing regulatory battle with the government, Uber today said it would suspend operations in Taiwan starting Feb. 10.

Uber, which has been operating in Taiwan for more than four years, has amassed millions of dollars in fines with ongoing tax and business legality issues; Uber says it is a technology company while regulators have deemed it a transport company. This year it was facing a sharp increase in penalties.

Audrey Tang (唐鳳) is a cabinet-level minister without portfolio and has responsibility for the digital economy and open government in Taiwan.

Asked whether the government should have done anything differently to help Uber stay in the local market, Tang told The News Lens she was “glad to see UberTAXI on the agenda of Uber Inc's next steps,” and she hoped “the e-Taxi regulation (多元化計程車方案) will facilitate a new model of transportation options.”

In June 2016, before she had been appointed to the Cabinet, Tang said Taiwan had “solved the Uber problem” via a new online open government forum process. She also commented at the time, “I see Uber as an epidemic of the mind. You don’t negotiate with a virus. All you can do is inoculate people: by deliberation, thinking deeply together to develop your immunity to their PR agenda. When you think about something very deeply together you’re immune.”

In November 2016, Tang met with Uber board member and strategic adviser David Plouffe when he was in Taiwan.

Today, when asked where the negotiations had fallen short, Tang said that “the current development is part of an ongoing process for the society to set acceptable norms around transportation.”

Tang added she was looking forward “to streamline this multi-stakeholder process so we can engage in dialogues proactively in the future — as outlined in Article 3 of the Digital Communication Act draft.”

Still, throughout the Uber saga, there has been commentary that the impasse would damage Taiwan’s status as an international destination for startups and tech investment.

Uber's Taiwan General Manager Gu Li-kai (顧立楷), in an interview with ICRT last year, outlined the risk of what would happen if the government was not able to create the type of environment for startups to thrive and compete with each other.

Gu said when Uber first entered the market three years ago, he was “super excited” to see Uber make Taiwan one of its early priority markets.

“Typically we see bigger U.S. technology companies take a little bit of time before they enter the Taiwan market,” he says.

However, given the ongoing, very public battles the company was having with regulators, Gu was less optimistic about the future of Taiwan’s startup ecosystem.

“I’m afraid that it is possible that these companies might decide to take their talents to other markets where they feel like it has potentially a more friendly environment,” he says. “I really feel like we are at a crossroads right now in terms of the overall development of the industry.”

Editor: Olivia Yang