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Taiwan plans to stop Uber by pressing criminal charges

2015/12/06 18:11:53

Taipei, Dec. 6 (CNA) Taiwan's Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) is planning to press criminal charges to stop what it feels are illegal ride-sharing services offered by Uber Taiwan (台灣宇博數位服務股份有限公司), MOTC sources said Sunday.

Since September 2014, the Directorate General of Highways (DGH) under the MOTC has imposed more than NT$40 million (US$1.22 million) in fines on Uber Taiwan and its drivers for violating the Highway Act, which bans unlicensed operators of transportation services.

But those fines have failed to stop the practices, the MOTC sources said.

Uber runs transportation services in Taiwan but has refused to apply for the required licenses and has never paid taxes in Taiwan because its earnings from the services are all booked overseas, according to the MOTC.

The Directorate General of Highways is consulting with its lawyers on a plan to stop Uber's allegedly illegal operations by means of the Criminal Code, under which it is illegal to "induce people into committing crimes," the MOTC sources said.

Under the Highway Act, those managing a taxicab transportation service without applying for a business license are subject to a fine of between NT$50,000 and NT$150,000.

Though the government seems determined to take legal action against the service, scholars have suggested trying to guide it to become a legal entity rather than shutting it down.

Lee Ker-tsung (李克聰), an associate professor of transportation technology and management at Feng Chia University in Taichung, said Uber cannot be eradicated because it is filling a gap in society -- the desire among consumers for access to multiple services and among others to increase their income through the "sharing economy."

Uber has defied payment of some administrative fines partly because its services receive few complaints from its users, Lee said, and he suggested that government think outside the box to figure out how to make Uber pay taxes and operate legally.

Chen Dun-ji (陳敦基), dean of National Taiwan Normal University's College of Management, agreed with Lee, but said Uber should also accept regulation of the service and face up to the problem of paying taxes and insurance.

He also suggested that the government make the taxi industry more competitive by easing regulations on taxi pricing to allow a gap between peak and off-peak hours and differentiate between various classes of taxi cabs.

The government could even guide Uber to becoming a leasing business, which could balance the competitive environment between Uber and taxi drivers, Chen said.

Since Uber entered the Taiwan market in 2013, the MOTC has held repeated talks with Uber representatives to register their business legally as a transportation services provider, but Uber has resisted because it considers itself an information technology services provider, according to the MOTC.

Highway authorities have imposed NT$35 million in fines on Uber and NT$11.50 million in fines on its drivers, of which Uber has paid NT$30.20 million of its own fines and NT$8.59 million of its drivers' fines, according to the DGH.

It refused to pay several fines imposed between Jan. 21 and 26 earlier this year, and the Taipei High Administrative Court upheld the move after ruling that 19 of the 21 citations, accounting for NT$2.05 million in fines, failed to state clearly where and when the violations occurred.

Furthermore, the court said, the DGH does not have the authority to shut down Uber's operations under the Highway Act, since the company's registered businesses do not fall under the terms of the act.

The highway authority is planning to appeal the ruling, saying it lost on procedural grounds rather than because Uber was innocent, and will present the necessary documents to show that the fines were indeed legitimate.

(By Wang Shu-fen, Kuo Chung-han and Elizabeth Hsu)
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