BANGKOK — The international crowd-sourced taxi company Uber has launched a low-cost service in Bangkok offering cheaper rates than the proposed fare increase for conventional taxis.
According to its website, the service, called UberX, will offer a base fare of 25 baht plus 1 baht per minute, with a minimum fare set at 45 baht.
The rate is significantly lower than the base fare of 35 baht plus 5-5.50 baht per kilometre currently charged by conventional taxis in Bangkok.
The Ministry of Transport also recently approved a fare hike demanded by taxi unions that will increase the current per-kilometre fare by 8 percent in December 2014 and 13 percent in June 2014. However, the Ministry rejected a hike in the base fare proposed by the unions, maintaining the 35 baht rate.
Air Chief Marshal Prajin Janthong, a member of the ruling military junta and Minister of Transport, said yesterday that authorities approved the fare rise because inflation has risen by 13 percent since the last taxi fare increase in 2008.
"We will separate the fare increases into two stages," ACM Prajin said, "The first stage, the 8 percent rise, will start in December. After that, we will evaluate the quality of the taxi services for six months. If they are satisfactory, the Ministry will go ahead with the second stage, the 13 percent rise."
Only taxis that meet safety and convenience standards set by the Ministry of Transport will be eligible for the fare hike, ACM Prajin added.
New game in town
The US-based company Uber first launched its premium car service in Thailand six months ago. Mobile phone users could book sedans serviced by drivers contracted with Uber and pay for their rides via credit card. However, many customers appear to have been dissuaded by the service's relatively steep price – 4.50 baht per kilometre.
There is no immediate reaction from officials or taxi unions in Bangkok to the new low-cost service offered by UberX, which became available on 16 October.
Uber previously made headlines around the world for its disruption of conventional taxi businesses in many capital cities, such as Paris, Kuala Lumpur, and Frankfurt. The confrontation led taxi unions in some countries to seek legal action against Uber, citing a lack of regulations over the self-employed drivers working for the company.
Richard Barrow, veteran blogger and longtime resident of Thailand, wrote that he prefers Uber over conventional taxis because many Thai taxi drivers in the financial district notoriously refuse to pick up Thai passengers, preferring foreign customers who they can charge an extortionate flat-fee instead.
The chronic problem has also led to the creation of several mobile phone applications that allow Bangkokians to call taxi drivers and arrange taxi rides on their own, such as Grab Taxi and Easy Taxi.
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