Taipei, July 4 (CNA) Uber, a San Francisco-based transportation networking company that makes mobile apps which allows customers to book and track vehicles for hire, is seeking to introduce the new technology to Taiwan, an official from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications said Friday. But ministry officials said they were still assessing whether the company's services are legitimate and violate any local transportation rules. Uber has begun soliciting members in Taiwan through the Internet by launching discount and other preferential offers. The apps, when downloaded to the user's smartphone, detects the Global Positioning System's (GPS) space-based satellite navigation system and finds the nearest available driver who is a member of the network. Customers can hail a private car, track the car's progress on a map, pay the driver, and even split the fare with friends using a credit card system, all via the Uber smartphone app that connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ridesharing services, according to the company website. In addition to car-for-hire services, Uber also offers taxi services, which allow customers to book and pay for taxi journeys, according to the ministry. But Wang Mu-heng, deputy director of the ministry's Department of Railways and Highways, said under existing rules, drivers who work for car-for-hire companies cannot directly receive assignments from customers, Wang added. Wang said if Uber cooperates with car-for-hire companies to supply car hiring services, then these companies can use the app to communicate with customers and assign drivers to pick up customers and accept payment. If Uber collaborates with taxi-cab companies, it will need to be licensed to become a taxi services provider and cannot offer discounts, according to Wang. He added that they should charge customers taxi fares based on a flag-down fare and the distance traveled in accordance with related regulations. Uber has filed applications to operate information management, business consulting and even third-party payment services, the ministry said.
However, it said it was concerned about the operating methods of Uber, given that if disputes arise from such services, consumers' rights could suffer. The ministry has therefore decided to collaborate with related government agencies to look into whether Uber's operations are legitimate. The ministry said car-for-hire providers could face fines of NT$9,000 (US$300) to NT$90,000 and taxi companies could be fined NT$50,000 to NT$150,000, if they are found to be in violation of related laws. Launched in 2009 and currently in operation in more than 70 cities in 37 countries, the app makes cities more accessible for people by "seamlessly connecting riders to drivers," according to the company's website. (By Wang Shu-feng and Evelyn Kao)