Uber and Grab suspend their motorbike taxi services in Bangkok

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Uber and Grab, the two largest on-demand taxi services in Southeast Asia, have suspended their motorbike taxi services in Bangkok following orders from the government. UberMoto launched in Bangkok just three months ago, while GrabBike has operated there since last August.

Transport ministry official Nunthapong Cherdchoo told Reuters that the services conflict with existing motorbike taxi services in the Thai capital. The government has pressured both services since they launched in Thailand.

UberMoto, which has since launched in India and Indonesia after Bangkok, takes the company’s on-demand taxi concept to two wheels. Motorbike taxis are a popular form on transport in many cities in Southeast Asia since drivers can weave the traffic-clogged roads faster than four-wheeled vehicles.

However, with motorbike taxi fleets on every street corner in Bangkok already, UberMoto’s arrival hasn’t been smooth. Uber’s aggressive pricing, which consisted of free rides for passengers during the launch period, attracted pressure from existing bike taxi drivers and authorities, who have been arresting motorbike drivers on the street. (This despite UberMoto debuting with the endorsement of the Thai transport police who were represent at the launch event in February.)

Uber has a reputation for butting heads with authorities in the West, but in Asia it has adopted a more conciliatory tone. Case in point, the company’s confirmation of UberMoto’s suspension is presented in a positive light:

We are pleased that the Thai Government is open to discussing new rules that would enable services like uberMOTO for passengers to operate. And we’re grateful for their support when it comes to using motorbikes as couriers and to deliver food. This means we will be able to launch delivery services like uberRUSH and uberEATS as soon as possible, so please stay tuned.

Grab initially did not suspend GrabBike, but just hours after Uber’s announcement it followed suit and withdrew its service, too.

With reference to the Department of Land Transportation’s announcement dated May 17, 2016, Grab Thailand will temporarily stop the GrabBike (Ride) service. We are in the process of transitioning over 10,000 GrabBike (Ride) drivers to the GrabBike (Delivery) service only. Grab Thailand is a local company and we are committed to providing safe rides for all and improving the lives of our drivers. We look forward to discussions with the government and all industry stakeholders to ensure that the GrabBike service operates within the proper guidelines, and work together towards a well-regulated ecosystem of complementary transport services.

Uber and Grab have had similar skirmishes with officials in Thailand, among many other parts of Asia, as their on-demand services were initially seen as threats to existing taxi services. That’s exactly the same case here, and it seems likely that a resolution will found in time. (Uber, notably, said UberMotor is “temporarily” suspended.)

It’s worth observing that Grab, which has raised over $700 million from investors like SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, took a more aggressive position in this situation by not initially withdrawing its service. It could just be a one-off scenario but, with regulatory issues flaring up in Indonesia and surely other markets as and when GrabBike expands, it’ll be interesting to see whether Grab repeats that approach.

Since both companies have a penchant for making long statements, we’re including them both below for posterity.

Here’s Grab’s original statement:

With reference to the Department of Land Transportation’s announcement dated May 17, 2016, Grab Thailand is currently in the process of internal discussions towards a conclusion for next steps. We will keep you posted when there’s any further update. GrabBike was launched as a solution to two big problems in Bangkok – safety and traffic. As with our other services, the Grab team has made sure that GrabBike adheres to the core of our organization, which is safety. For passengers, safety is ensured by Grab’s additional personal accident insurance coverage for both bikers and passengers, and the helmets we provide. In addition, our bikers go through rigorous safety training before being allowed to make trips. GrabBike has also helped to ease the transport problems that exist within Bangkok, where traffic congestion is rated as one of the worst in the world, by providing an efficient smartphone-based platform that allows passengers to connect to available motorcycle taxis.

Aside from the safety trainings and free accident insurance that drivers get, we are also helping them enhance their livelihoods. GrabBike bikers have the possibility of taking parcel delivery jobs when they are not picking up passengers to reduce idle time on the roads and increase productivity. GrabBike is focused on providing convenient and safe rides for passengers and will look to continue our dialogue with all industry stakeholders on using technology to make Thailand’s public transport safer and even more convenient.

And here is Uber’s full statement:

Earlier this year Thailand helped Uber achieve a world-first with the launch of uberMOTO, a global pilot and our first two-wheeled ridesharing service.

Despite strong support from Thai riders and drivers, we have decided to temporarily suspend our Bangkok pilot, starting at noon while we work on creating modern regulations for app-based motorbike services with the Government.

We are pleased that the Thai Government is open to discussing new rules that would enable services like uberMOTO for passengers to operate. And we’re grateful for their support when it comes to using motorbikes as couriers and to deliver food. This means we will be able to launch delivery services like uberRUSH and uberEATS as soon as possible, so please stay tuned.

It’s been two years since Uber launched our ridesharing app in Thailand. We are deeply committed to this country, its amazing people, and to our goal of regulated ridesharing in every city where we operate. We want to thank Thai riders and drivers for their extraordinary support. uberX and UberBLACK will continue to operate as usual — offering everyone a safe, affordable, convenient ride in minutes all at the push of a button.

By working together with the Government we will ensure that cities across Thailand can benefit from ridesharing: including the ability to cut drink driving, reduce congestion as well as pollution and better serve communities with little to no public transit.

Uber On Thailand!

This story has been updated with new information

Featured Image: jonrussell/Flickr