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Uber charts a new course in Asia: Working with taxis and governments

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To say that Uber has had a tough year would be, well, the understatement of 2017. While the company has long been a magnet for bad press, these last 11 months seem to have been particularly contentious, even for a company as accustomed to controversy as Uber. From continued fights with governments, to driver protests, to the departure of a CEO, to the loss of a license in a major market, the embattled unicorn is looking for ways to change its approach. And so too is Uber’s new Asia chief, Brooks Entwistle, who joined the company in August.

Entwistle has his work cut out for him — Uber has already been pushed out of the largest market in the region (China), and in other nations, homegrown competitors are giving the company a serious run for its money. But the new leader is taking a page from new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s book, rather than that of ex-executive Travis Kalanick, calling for cooperation and coexistence over outright war.

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In fact, Entwistle told TechCrunch, Uber is trying to make allies out of former enemies. “We are actively looking to partner with taxi companies,” he said. “In Taipei, taxis are at 30 percent utilization, we can drive that [figure] up.”

Similarly, Entwistle is hoping to work more closely with government officials so as to avoid the situation currently unfolding in London (where Uber is fighting tooth and nail to maintain its license to operate). As he told TechCrunch, “I visit one or two countries a week to meet regulators and governments. We talk solutions and are coming at this from a collaboration/partnership approach. The conversation feels like it is really changing.”

Government cooperation will be more important than ever for Uber, especially as rivals like Go-Jek and Grab gain traction, raising capital from Asian investors, and expanding their services beyond ride-hailing. But Uber is still looking for a silver lining, and in a departure from previous practices, toward legislative allies.

So far, this looks to be working. “We launched fully in [Cambodia] in cooperation with the government,” Entwistle noted. “Transportation officials were on stage and it is very much a partnership. I do think we have to work with them to provide solutions, and we are asking them in many cases what they need.”

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