Govt, Uber agree to find legal 'way out'

Car-hailing service Uber agreed Monday with the Transport Ministry to jointly conduct a study into ways of legalising the service in Thailand, where it is currently viewed as violating public transport laws.

Until that is completed the California-based firm is required to halt its ride-sharing service nationwide, deputy permanent secretary for transport Somsak Hommuang said after meeting with Uber representatives.

However, measures to clamp down on drivers of Uber will be stepped up after the operator rejected a request to halt its services for six to 12 months while the feasibility study is conducted, according to a joint force of military, police and land transport officers.

But Amy Kunrojpanya, director of policy and communications for Uber Asia Pacific, has rejected the request, saying the company only agreed to the study and not the suspension of operations.

"Uber does not violate laws," she said.

"But there is no law to regulate the service in Thailand, unlike [in] Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, which have already put [such laws] in place."

She shrugged off the government's warning of further arrests, saying the company takes good care of its drivers.

Drivers who are arrested and fined by the authorities can now seek refunds from the company, according to a source at Uber who requested anonymity.

Department of Land Transport (DLT) director-general Sanit Phromwong said the joint force will take legal action against drivers of any illegal ride-sharing services that refuse to adhere to the ban.

"We have to enforce the law. Uber is definitely illegal," he said.

"Even legally registered taxis must be punished if they violate the law."

Military officers will work with the ministry to find an appropriate solution so the public can enjoy safe and convenient means of transportation offered by "lawful operators", said a spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The Professional Association of Public Taxi Motorists said it plans to speak to the military and police to find a legal means of halting Uber's service.

Its chairman Woraphon Kaemphunthot said his group will also request the Digital Economy and Society Ministry to consider shutting down Uber's smartphone app in Thailand.

The association petitioned the Transport Ministry Monday to terminate the "illegal" services of foreign ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Malaysia-based GrabCar.

It said they are unfairly poaching revenue from registered Thai taxi operators.

Mr Woraphon said both foreign services are running "immoral businesses" as they illegally use private cars as public vehicles.

Moreover, they are harming the interests of several thousand registered taxi drivers, he said.

Faced with claims that some licensed cabbies in the country behave poorly, he described this as a "minority".

The association's call came the same day as the NCPO decided to look into the long-running problem of ride-sharing services.

Witun Naeophanit, chairman of a taxi cooperative in Bangkok, said many Thai cabbies have seen their income drop by 30% due to the advent of Uber and GrabTaxi.

The DLT must clamp down on unlicensed drivers because "many taxi garage owners lease taxis to those with no licences for public vehicles", Mr Woraphon said.

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