Uber’s Flash quickly loses lustre in Hong Kong

It’s bad news when your only partner doesn’t show up.

Uber, the company that made ride-hailing through smartphones a global phenomenon, hosted a press conference to announce its new service in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Known as Flash, the feature was designed for users to call for an UberX or taxi.

But Uber’s partner in Flash, Tin Shing Motors, which has a fleet of 20 taxis, didn’t show up to the event. Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported that Edward Lau, who runs Tin Shing, had apparently been called a “traitor” to the taxi industry, and had received “threats to his personal safety and that of his family” as well as warnings from insurance providers that his company would no longer be covered if he partners with Uber.

A Caixin reporter tested out Flash on the evening of Tuesday, and found that only UberX rides were available to users.

Beyond Hong Kong, Uber has formed partnerships with taxi operators in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Singapore.

Uber has been struggling in Hong Kong since it landed there in 2015. Its fleet has been labeled by taxi operators as “illegal”, and some of the company’s drivers were arrested in August that year. Uber’s offices were raided in a probe of its “illegal operations”.

Uber merged its business in the Chinese mainland with local firm Didi Chuxing in 2016 in a US$35 billion deal after reportedly losing US$1 billion per year in the region.