Wed | Aug 4, 2021

Montague: Open arms for Uber, with a warning

Published:Wednesday | June 23, 2021 | 12:13 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Transport Minister Robert Montague has welcomed the entry of Uber to the Jamaican market, with the proviso that the company obey industry laws.
Transport Minister Robert Montague has welcomed the entry of Uber to the Jamaican market, with the proviso that the company obey industry laws.

In his first public pronouncement on the controversial entry of Uber into the Jamaican market, Transport Minister Robert Montague has welcomed the ride-sharing company’s overtures locally but cautioned recruited drivers to have the requisite...

In his first public pronouncement on the controversial entry of Uber into the Jamaican market, Transport Minister Robert Montague has welcomed the ride-sharing company’s overtures locally but cautioned recruited drivers to have the requisite licences or face the brunt of the law.

The roll-out of Uber’s services on June 15 has piqued interest and sparked concerns about whether its business model would be in breach of Jamaican law.

But Montague was emphatic that the California-based company was free to operate once it did not contravene the transport sector’s framework.

“As long as they have licensed operators, they will have no issues or any problem, but if they continue or if they have persons who are not licensed, we are going to have a problem,” Montague told The Gleaner during Tuesday’s handover, at his Maxfield Avenue headquarters, of defibrillators for the May Pen Hospital.

Uber has not answered Gleaner queries on whether it intends to enlist non-public passenger vehicle operators as part of its lease agreement framework.

“The availability of the Uber app in the country is a clear indicator of the confidence we have in Jamaica’s business climate and forward-looking vision. As a tech company, we see an opportunity to contribute to the country’s post-pandemic recovery efforts, leveraging innovation to drive local empowerment,” the company said.

The company did not disclose how many drivers have already signed up, but Montague said that the Transport Authority had identified at least two drivers aligned with the multinational so far. Both operators had a licence to operate.

Ministry officials have met with Uber four times since 2017, but Montague said the ministry had not been able to locate a representative of Uber in Jamaica since it officially entered the local market on June 15

Montague has scoffed at concerns that the ride-sharing company poses a threat to the livelihoods of taxi operators who have been clamouring for a fare hike.

“If you come in legally, you are welcomed with open arms,” he insisted. But he delivered a terse warning.

“If you don’t play by the rules, the full force of the law is going to come down on you,” he said.

Jamaican law does not require companies like Uber to register with the Transport Authority, but Montague wants to have consultation with Uber officials.

The company has already started wooing Jamaicans with incentives.

On Monday, Uber launched a promotion offering up to 50 per cent discount to healthcare workers.

In other jurisdictions, Uber has been known to offer ride-share drivers generous cash bonuses and perks that enable them to take home bigger incomes.

Montague said that the ministry and the Government would not interfere with the business model of private investors.

“I know taxi operators who offer a number of things. There is one operator who offers you water, another one offers you free Wi-Fi, so anybody will offer anything and we welcome all players in the marketplace as long as you abide by the law,” said Montague.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com