Hong Kong authorities arrest Uber drivers

Taxi company Uber faces another legal challenge in Hong Kong, following the arrest of 21 drivers

Uber faces an uphill struggle to operate freely in Hong Kong, with local authorities determined to impose regulations

On May 23, Hong Kong authorities announced the arrest of 21 Uber drivers, the latest legal action in a prolonged crackdown on the taxi app. The arrests, resulting from an undercover operation that began in May, were made for illegally driving a car for hire and driving without third-party insurance.

Hong Kong law states cars for hire must be equipped with a permit and third-party insurance. Authorities say ensuring drivers do not break city laws is Uber’s responsibility, however the company claims it has a ride-sharing insurance policy of up to HKD 100m ($1,300,000) per trip, which complies with Hong Kong’s insurance regulations.

An Uber spokesman said the company was ”extremely disappointed” by the action, and affirmed Uber’s commitment to providing “assistance, including legal support” to the 21 drivers arrested.

In March, Hong Kong authorities fined five drivers HKD 10,000 ($1,300), confiscated their smartphones and revoked their licences for a year

This is not the first time Uber drivers in Hong Kong have faced legal action. In March, Hong Kong authorities fined five drivers HKD 10,000 ($1,300), confiscated their smartphones and revoked their licences for a year. Uber worked with the drivers to successfully force officials to suspend the license ban. Hong Kong’s decision to punish Uber drivers rather than fining the company demonstrates the difficulty in developing robust legal structures to adequately regulate international tech companies.

This action is just the latest in a string of legal challenges faced by the embattled taxi firm in various countries. Last month in the US, a former driver of rival app Lyft filed a suit accusing Uber of implementing a programme called ‘Hell’ to poach Lyft drivers. Uber allegedly tracked which of its drivers were working across both apps and prioritised sending passengers to those also using Lyft, in the hope of coaxing them to abandon Lyft for the seemingly more profitable Uber.

Earlier this year The New York Times reported on a tool called ‘Greyball’, used by Uber to deceive authorities in cities such as Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, where the app is heavily restricted or banned. Greyball uses data to identify officials attempting to hail an Uber, scuppering undercover investigations by presenting them with a fake version of the app populated by ‘ghost’ cars.

Uber’s company culture is also under scrutiny following allegations by several former female employees of endemic sexism. However, the biggest challenge faced by Uber is from taxi industry groups, which have campaigned for transportation network companies such as Uber to be treated as illegal taxi operations. Uber is currently involved in numerous suits across the globe regarding the legality of transportation network companies.

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