Ride-sharing application Uber has been in and out of the news since the service was launched in 2010. The service essentially offers customers the ability to hail a cab with a given destination, which is routed through a "shared economy" pool of drivers. The service has faced legal action across the world as local governments (and taxi firms) complain about Uber's business model, typically citing that the service encourages thousands of unlicensed ride-sharing drivers to pick up (their) fares. Uber's business is based on a blend of sharing information and trust, but ultimately it should be better for the environment as it is a much more efficient use of transport systems: essentially an empty seat is a wasted seat. As part of the "shared economy" pool of drivers, Uber will use minicabbers around the world and it's here that the business is providing Chinese drivers with more than a little direction. It has threatened action – firing – should Chinese drivers become involved with conflicts or protests. In the detail, Uber has ordered China drivers not to participate in taxi protests at Hangzhou, which is in Eastern China and according to the source, the Wall Street Journal, Uber threatened to cancel contracts with disobedient drivers.
Uber says that their harsh stance is designed to "maintain social order." A recent article in the UK Financial Times reported that Uber is already serving one million rides a day in the Chinese market but that the country has massive potential, despite the threat of local competition. A new taxi business, Didi Kuaidi, recently formed from a partnership of two Chinese Internet companies (Alibaba and Tencent). The new business is aggressively expanding and well funded; Uber told the FT that [an unnamed business] had cloned their product line, had employed tactics such as blocking UberChina accounts from Tencent's WeChat service and had been bribing taxi drivers to protest against Uber.
Given how Uber has upset almost every market that they've operated in, perhaps senior management is trying to tread lightly in the Chinese market given the scope for massive growth? Or perhaps Uber is mellowing as it matures? Whatever the reason, given the threat of their contract not being renewed, Uber must be counting on the majority of taxi drivers not to antagonize the Chinese authorities.