Guest Speech: Success of Uber rides with effective government relations

APCO’s Steve Liew – in his continuing policy and strategy advice to UBER’s operations in Singapore– speaks at COMM 346.

Students compete with fresh ideas to get Uber stories across to counterpoint increasing pressures from the Singapore taxi industry

SL mark.lim  white boardclass

APCO Worldwide1 Executive Director Steven Liew spoke on Uber’s strategic message plan to deal effectively with government relations, and to protect the legitimacy of its (i.e., Uber’s) business, against hostility.

Mr. Liew discussed the conflict between Uber, on one hand, and the Singapore taxi industry, on the other. Basically, each Singapore taxi driver is required to have a vocational licence, whereas Uber drivers do not need such a vocational licence.  Taxi drivers say that while competition itself is fine, it is unfair that their main competitors, namely Uber drivers, are not required to have the same vocational licence. Obtaining the vocational licence requires proving knowledge of road safety and related issues, and if taxi drivers must do so, Uber drivers also must.

During campaigning for the recent general elections, the taxi industry voiced its complaints, especially to Khaw Boon Wan, now Singapore’s Transport Minister and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure. Minister Khaw has said that the taxi industry has a point, and that the Ministry was re-examining the situation. Simultaneously, though, he also has said that some people do prefer using Uber, and that authorities always should be “fair to players, whether incumbent or insurgents, and must strike a balanced approach.”

Mr. Liew  also spoke similarly. He said that as a lot of Uber drivers are really only driving part-time, if they are required to have a vocational licence, many of them “… will drop out of driving completely. On the other hand, if MOT (Ministry of Transport)/LTA (Land Transport Authority) does nothing, taxi drivers will feel their interests are not protected by the Government. And there are 100K taxi vocational license holders out there, of whom something like 30K – 60K drive taxis regularly. MOT/LTA cannot ignore this pressure group.”

Mr. Liew then proposed to COMM 346 students a challenging assignment: What good way can this matter be handled?

In response to Mr. Liew’s stimulating challenge, students competed with fresh ideas highlighting various aspects of Uber, one of which is that Uber creates jobs for breadwinners, and that they provide efficient and convenient rides for all Singaporeans. Each group pitched diverse ideas, encouraging as many people as possible to share their experience with Uber, and portraying Uber as a life-changing platform for fast revenue generation etc.

Cherie Lim Ying, Group 5, proposed to Mr. Liew that the difference in road safety and road knowledge between taxi drivers and Uber drivers could be bridged by online job training for Uber drivers (who would have to go through related courses and assessments). This would increase Uber-driver eligibility to be on the same level of skills and knowledge as the taxi drivers.

Group 2 (Tang Jingfang, Tan Wan Ling Elizabeth, Lim Jin Yang Mark, Juliane Benedict, Jeannie Teo Jin Min) was the winning team, due mainly to their enthusiastic and experience-based presentations about communal and practical values Uber can bring to Singaporeans. Group 2’s Mark Lim said “Our message highlights how Uber can change commuters’ lives. We think that the humanizing approach would be well received by most Singaporeans. People often come across troubling situations to get a ride, particularly when all taxis are on call or changing shifts … From my own experience, on the verge of being late for class, Uber was my hero and came to my rescue. Collecting this kind of commuters’ anecdotal pieces, we can plan on starting a hashtag campaign such as #SuperUber on Instagram.”

Mr. Liew commented that all the groups’ efforts are commendable. He gave special mention to Group 2’s work, pointing out that they had “… shown the importance of prior research and experience with customers’ service you are going to pitch ideas for, to make your ideas more appealing and convincing in a practical sense.”

With its workshop ideas pitch, Group 2 is prize-winner (second time consecutively)!

Mr. Liew’s excellent lecture presentation was about the history of disruptive technology, opportunities and challenges in a sharing economy industry like Uber. He also gave a rich description of how Uber embarked on working with regulators, managing pressing issues, in addition to the role of social media in creating awareness and engaging stakeholders.

1 APCO Worldwide is a global public affairs and strategic communications consultancy.

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