License article

Uber defies Bali ban, offers free car rides and chopper trips

Bali:  Renegade ride-sharing service Uber is not only defying a ban on its cars in Bali but has upped the ante by offering helicopter rides on the resort island.

Days after Bali's Transportation Department banned Uber on January 21, the app-enabled service was offering free car trips from February 8 to 14 within the capital, Denpasar.

The head of Bali's transportation department, Standly Suwandhi, admitted the department was struggling to enforce the ban.

"Since we don't know which cars Uber utilises … we might pretend to be clients, order an Uber ride and then catch them," Mr Standly told Fairfax Media.

"As for the penalty for the ones caught, we are still organising with police. We might detain the cars. But as for the action sanctions, it's still in process."


Meanwhile, Uber is now offering chopper rides - conducted by Air Bali and covered by insurance  - at the push of a smartphone button.

"Uber is evolving the way the world moves," the company jauntily declared in a press release. "As a technology company, we are able to use our mobile application to connect people with more options, whether it be on land or in the air."

Uber, which was officially launched in San Francisco in 2011, allows passengers to book rides on a smartphone app, which assigns the jobs to drivers who use their own cars.

The controversial company has been the subject of protests, bans and legal action all over the world from those who say it presents unfair competition to taxi drivers.

The transportation department head, Mr Standly, said Uber was officially banned from operating in Bali because it used private cars that did not have permits.

The ban came after local drivers and transportation associations held a rally in Denpasar complaining Uber was destroying the livelihood of local taxi drivers.

But an Uber spokesman said he knew nothing about the ban.

"Ban? Was it in writing? Who did they send it to? Uber is an application. Our partners can only register with Uber if they have a business license or legal permit. There are no private cars."

One Uber driver, who asked not to be named, said Uber drivers wouldn't mind getting permits or paying taxes if that was the problem.

"Just let us work. I am Balinese, I am trying to make a living like everyone else," he said. "Some taxis refuse to use meters, they charge a high price, crazy prices."

The driver said taxis complained about Uber because customers preferred the ride-sharing service.

Uber, which was estimated to be worth $62.5 billion late last year, has now been launched in almost 400 cities in 68 countries worldwide.

Its modus operandi when faced with hostile local authorities is to mobilise public support for the service.

The Bali chopper rides - free for one day only on Friday - are one of the biggest marketing gimmicks since Uber offered rides in Lamborghinis and Maseratis in Singapore and hot air balloon rides in Hyderabad, India, last year.

Taneli Tehhoraun, from Finland, said the helicopter trip was a lot of fun. "I used Uber back home and here too, a few times. It's easier to get than trying to catch a taxi," he said.

Uber drivers told Fairfax Media that most of their customers were Europeans, especially Russians, with Australians preferring to hire scooters.

"We don't use Uber in Australia or here. We go around in taxis. It's safer," said Dale and Kristy Gavenlock, from Perth.

Nicole Shady, also from Perth, said she used Uber every fortnight in Australia but didn't know the service was available in Bali. "But I won't be using it now that I know. In Bali, I use taxis and scooters, they've been here long before Uber. I want to support them."

Bluebird taxi driver Ahmad Herman said his income had not been affected by Uber entering the market. "I have many Australian tourist passengers," he said. "The office did say they saw a small decline in their income since Uber, but they said not to worry. We don't have a problem with Uber."

Follow Jewel Topsfield on Facebook