Macau anticipated to mirror Hong Kong’s steps in regulating ride-hailing services

The local community is expecting Macau to follow in Hong Kong’s footsteps by regulating online ride-hailing platforms through licensing – a move that has long been called for by the Macau community.

In Hong Kong, transport officials sent a document earlier this week to the legislature, asking lawmakers to further consider the proposal, which includes tougher penalties on illegal ride services.

The officials also said they would assess and iron out details such as requirements for obtaining licenses and the number of vehicles permitted on online platforms.

Authorities plan to complete the legislative proposals sometime in 2025.

Similar to Macau, Hong Kong’s taxi industry has long resisted online platforms like Uber, seeing them as a threat to their business.

Earlier this week, Hong Kong’s transport officials said they hope for a “win-win” situation for the transport industry and passengers through licensing and improved taxi services.

Conversely, Macau remains hesitant to make such a move.

In August last year, Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng stated that the government had reviewed the applicable laws and found that the introduction of ride-hailing platforms would require significant amendment of multiple laws.

António Monteiro, a member of the Macau SAR Central District Community Service Consultative Council, told the Times that as Macau aims to become a smart city, “the need to have a ride-hailing service will create an opportunity for Macau to achieve this objective and be as smart as any regional or international city globally.”

This comes amid several calls from tourists, lawmakers, and consultative members for Macau to review its transport regulation.

“We need to sit down and observe the world, which have moved on, with most cities allowing ride-hailing services. But instead we are still here, discussing how best to implement the measures after all these years. It is unacceptable, in my opinion,” said Monteiro.

Monteiro noted that if the government proceeds with the law revision and approval of ride-hailing services, the execution of this must be prompt.

This includes creating partnerships or engaging with companies to develop high-quality ride-hailing services.

“Imagine tourists coming for the upcoming worldwide concerts in the recently announced entertainment space in Cotai, or near a festival in Rua da Felicidade, and we are still facing inefficient taxi services. Who loses after all of this? Macau does,” he said.

Uber commenced operations in Macau in October 2015, a year after commencing operations in Hong Kong, drawing both praise and criticism from the community. Demand for the ride-sharing service was tremendous before its entry in the SAR.

However, it was short-lived after facing multiple hurdles from the local government as it faced regulatory pressures.

The ride-hailing app halted operations in July 2017, pausing operations for the second time, noting that the company “fought hard every day to legitimize our Macau operations.”

Last month, lawmaker Ron Lam highlighted taxi shortages, particularly during peak hours, as a key issue that could be alleviated by introducing licensed ride-hailing services.

Lam noted that the situation is expected to worsen as hundreds of taxi licenses are set to expire, and the government has only authorized 500 new licenses to begin operations in January 2025.

The inability of foreign tourists to effectively use the local radio taxi app due to limited registration options and poor location services has been raised many times.

Although the city has the MassPlus app, which is the primary platform for booking taxis, the app only allows registration using cell phone numbers from Macau, Hong Kong or mainland China, without the ability for users to enter addresses in English.

Monteiro suggested that a ride-hailing app should have all three languages to cater to the needs of foreign visitors – something the government has been investing in to attract global tourists and reduce dependence on the mainland market.

“If we have 4+1, I would suggest we also have “2+1” for languages. This would encompass catering for the two official languages of Macau plus one international language: English. We cannot attract international visitors to Macau or ensure that they will want to return otherwise,” said Monteiro.

When questioned about whether the introduction of ride-hailing services would have a significant impact on Macau, Monteiro noted that it was also a diversification strategy, aligning with the city’s 1+4 development strategy that includes a focus on new technology.

However, this strategy to date appears to be failing in transportation measures, as evidenced through parking meters on the street that only accept “Macau pass” card for payment, without remote payment options.

Uber welcomes gov’t proposal

Uber welcomed the Hong Kong authorities’ move to regulate ride-hailing platforms but also cautioned in a statement that it was “critical for the government to accompany this step with a workable licensing regime.”

The statement also said that capping the number of “ride-sharing licenses” could be a blow to many drivers who rely on the platform for flexible earning opportunities.

Hong Kong lawmakers are expected to discuss the government proposals on Friday.

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