Hong Kong: Has Uber finally met its match?

Cheap, decent taxis in Hong Kong means Uber is having to go upmarket.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 17 Jul 2014

When Uber isn’t jerking taxi drivers out of their regulated, comfortable existence in western cities from London to New York and Paris, it’s ploughing ahead with it’s masterplan to upset urban transport all over the world. Since January it has launched in 20 Asian cities, from Singapore to Bangalore and Beijing.

But taking over the world isn’t as simple as copying and pasting a business model and the private car hire app’s newest city, Hong Kong, shows just that. Taxis in the former British colony cost a third of what black cabs do in London, according to Deutsche Bank, and are reliable and easy to hail.

That means Uber, which was valued at a staggering $18.2bn last month, will have to go upmarket, as it did when it first launched in the US. Rides will cost one and a half to two times as much as they would in Hong Kong's traditional red and white taxis.

‘Hong Kong is a city that prides itself on having a multitude of choices. That’s what Uber offers . . . to anyone that’s willing to pay a little more for a better experience,’ Uber Asia head Allen Penn told the FT.

Uber’s strict quality control on notoriously dangerous roads and an app that effectively removes language barriers are reasons it will probably thrive in other Asian cities. But with English ubiquitous and accident rates low, Hong Kong is a different sort of beast. It will probably win fans at the upper end of the market, but is unlikely to upset the apple cart at the bottom.

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