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Hong Kong court cracks down hard on Uber

Adding to the long list of Uber’s problems around the world, a Hong Kong court finds five of its drivers guilty of operating without proper licenses. This is yet another blow to the company which has had a bad year.

The West Kowloon Court has found five Uber drivers guilty of driving without a permit allowing them to transport paying customers. On Friday, they were each fined 10,000 Honk Kong dollars ($1,287 or 1,213 euros ) and had their driving licences suspended for 12 months, pending appeals. Lawyers for the drivers said they planned to appeal.

The judge, So Wai-tak, said the drivers' vehicles had been used for commercial purposes and that their insurance expressly excluded commercial use leaving passengers unprotected.

The drivers were arrested in a dramatic undercover police operation after furious traditional cabbies in the southern Chinese city smashed up their own taxis with hammers and drove towards the government headquarters demanding authorities act on unlicensed cars.

In response to the verdict, Uber's general manager in Hong Kong, Kenneth She Chun-chi, said: "We are very disappointed with today's court decision, which we believe goes against the best interests of riders, drivers and the city of Hong Kong itself." He also said that "sharing a ride shouldn't be a crime."

Continuing global headaches

This is not Uber's only problem at the moment. The San Francisco-based company has been facing scrutiny and regulatory roadblocks in markets across the globe. It has also faced stiff resistance from traditional taxi drivers around the world, as well as bans in some places over safety concerns and questions over legal issues, including taxes.

The Hong Kong verdict comes less than a month after the ride-hailing service pulled out of Taiwan, following an impasse with the government.

Uber also halted services in Hungary in July last year due to new legislation that stops drivers from making money with their own vehicles.

Thailand to go it alone

Thailand is taking another road. The government is cracking down on private car-hailing services such as Uber, but plans to introduce its own taxi app to appease passengers.

Last year, the government halted Uber and Grab's motorbike taxi services, and last month, Uber vehicles were banned from picking up passengers at Bangkok's main airport.

Thai transport officials said that services using private vehicles to transport passengers, such as Uber or Southeast Asia's GrabCar, are illegal because the vehicles aren't registered for public transport.

A recent crackdown saw the authorities run sting operations by masquerading as ordinary passengers. They would ask the vehicle's driver to drop them off at a Department of Land Transport office, where the driver would be fined up to 2,000 baht ($57, 53.2 euros) for improper registration.

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tr/uhe (Reuters, AP)

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