BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's government is cracking down on private car-hailing services such as Uber and plans to introduce its own taxi app to appease passengers.
Thai transport officials said Thursday that services using private vehicles to transport passengers, such as Uber or Southeast Asia's GrabCar, are illegal because the vehicles aren't registered for public transport.
Thai authorities have threatened repeatedly to shut down private car ride-sharing services, and recently have cracked down by fining individual drivers.
Services using smartphone apps that call licensed taxis —such as GrabTaxi, part of the same company that operates GrabCar — are legal.
The government plans to introduce its own cellphone app, TAXI OK, for passengers to call government-endorsed taxis featuring GPS tracking systems and closed-circuit cameras. It will also have an up-market variation called TAXI VIP.
"With this project, we're improving taxi standards by building trust, confidence, and safety," said Sanit Promwong, director-general of the Department of Land Transportation.
Most transport apps in Thailand allow users to call both taxis and private vehicles. The only exception is Uber, whose Thai operations rely solely on private vehicles.
Uber issued a statement saying it would continue to seek to have ridesharing legalized, saying it believes "it is time to amend the existing legal framework to accommodate this much needed new technology and realize the full benefits it is bringing to riders, drivers and cities."
The recent crackdown saw the authorities run sting operations by masquerading as ordinary passengers. They would ask the vehicle's driver to drop them off at a Department of Land Transport office, where the driver would be fined up to 2,000 baht ($57) for improper registration.
Last year, the government halted Uber and Grab's motorbike taxi services, and last month, Uber vehicles were banned from picking up passengers at Bangkok's main airport.
The ride-sharing services have continued to flourish, however.
"I never use regular cabs, especially at night," said Vasuda Emharuedhai, 27, a legal secretary in Bangkok. "I don't trust them and I feel a lot safer in Ubers."
Some called the Thai government old-fashioned for cracking down on ride-sharing.
"Don't reject services that benefit the public good by using 'law and order' as an excuse," said former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij in a post on his Facebook page. He charged that cracking down contradicts government rhetoric claiming it wants to step up the use of technology in everyday life.
Uber has faced similar problems with regulators in many countries such as China, France, Spain and Mexico, who say its cars and drivers do not have the correct permits to transport passengers.