Bangkok Post

Uber officially launches operations in Yangon

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YANGON: The private ride-hailing service Uber Technologi­es Inc officially launched operations i n Myanmar’s main city Yangon yesterday, aiming to tap into one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing online markets.

The launch follows Singapore-based GrabTaxi’s debut, which began a trial run in the Southeast Asian country about six weeks ago.

Uber is one of the world’s largest ondemand transporta­tion platforms. It is seeking an alliance with the government to smooth acceptance of the use of private vehicles for commercial transport.

A taxi ride in Myanmar usually involves negotiatin­g prices, no use of meters and a lack of air conditioni­ng or seat belts. Using a ride-hailing app is still a relatively new concept, though the practice has been gaining in popularity.

Local travel services start-up Oway and Hello Cabs, a rival service run by a constructi­on and auto dealership tycoon, also provide ride-hailing services.

“I definitely want to try Uber,’’ said Nyan Zay Htet, a company worker who was haggling with a driver over a fare on a downtown street in Yangon. “I welcome having internatio­nal companies come in because it can be more convenient for us if we don’t have to bargain over prices and can just hop in and go.’’

Some taxi drivers, however, expressed alarm about other companies edging onto their turf. “My car is my livelihood,’’ said Tun Mya, who said he was already earning less because people were hailing fewer traditiona­l taxis. “I am a bit worried ... I don’t know what will happen yet, but we are watching.’’

More than two-thirds of Southeast Asians are younger than 40 and the number going online to buy goods and services is soaring.

A recent research report by Google and the Singaporea­n investment arm Temasek Holdings Private Limited put the potential ride-sharing market in six larger regional markets at $13 billion by 2025, up from $2.5 billion in 2015.

With more than 50 million people, Myanmar is growing fast and its public transport networks are not keeping up.

Taxis are plentiful in Yangon, with local media reporting authoritie­s estimate there are more than 50,000 on the city’s jammed roads.

The industry is something of a free-forall, with non-licensed drivers turning their cars into taxis as they please. But the government has said it intends to crack down on that.

Incomes for most people are still low, so price competitio­n may be key.

An online Uber fare estimator put the base fare in Yangon at 1,500 kyats ($1.09) with a minimum charge of 1,800 kyats ($1.31).

Meanwhile, Uber yesterday suffered a legal setback in its fight against being regulated as a traditiona­l taxi service, after an adviser to the European Union’s top court rejected the argument that the car-hailing applicatio­n is just that, an app.

The question has vexed regulators and lawmakers across the region for years and Thursday’s non-binding opinion gives an indication that Uber might not be able to shake off national restrictio­ns, such as the obligation to get a licence or other authorisat­ions.

“The Uber electronic platform, whilst innovative, falls within the field of transport,” Advocate General Maciej Szpunar, of the EU Court of Justice, said in a statement in Luxembourg. “Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licences and authorisat­ions under national law.”

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