The arrival of Uber services has been the cause of many opinions and arguments all around the world, a source for all sorts of individual and collective actions, for or against. It happens with all disrupting technologies. Uber will be for many years the object of case studies about the impact of technology on the way we live and the role of public policy and regulation in fostering or hindering changes.
Macau, in that general sense, was not an exception. But the relatively brief presence of the service in the territory has a few twists of its own. On several accounts, the Uber history in Macau will be singular. But let us stick here just to its arrival, how the whole story began.
Almost as soon as it rolled onto these shores, the service was declared illegal. As reported by the local media, a joint message by the traffic department and the police declared it so. The joint declaration also threatened those involved with repression and punishment. Strangely enough, such a public document was only published in Chinese – no time for translation? Some saw there a whiff of urgency, if not panic, in some less benevolent interpretations.
That was already strange enough, but more was to come. The next day, officials retreated a bit: maybe Uber was operating in a gray zone, or the situation was at least less than as straightforward as it might have looked at first – which is often the case with new technologies. Then steps in the Chief Executive office and the service is again, in no ambiguous terms, declared unlawful. Furthermore, we were informed that the police (and the firefighters, who knows why?) would be mobilised to repress and penalise the providers and, possibly, the users of the service.
In the following days, one got the impression that several officials were instructed to re-assert the message – “the service is illegal,” we heard again and again. None other than the Secretary for Security (how does this matter fall under the security portfolio?) reinforced the message and raised the point that Uber services had been declared illegal in various countries – as if that was relevant to assess the legality under the laws of Macau. Other situations, possibly less unfavourable, were omitted.
What seems still absent is a clear, unequivocal explanation about why and to what extent the service is illegal; and how that justifies the level of administrative and police resources assigned to its repression.