Uber launches motorcycle ride-hailing service in Bangkok

BANGKOK – Ride-hailing service Uber is placing a bet on motorcycles in Thailand’s capital.

Uber announced Wednesday the launch of its UberMOTO service in Bangkok as a pilot project for cities in developing countries.

The new service is not original. Motorcycle taxis are a long-standing tradition in many Southeast Asian cities, and became especially popular after the economic boom of the 1980s brought an onslaught of new cars jamming city streets.

Uber’s Singapore-based competitor GrabTaxi launched its GrabBike motorcycle ride-on-demand service in Bangkok last July, and even earlier in Indonesia and Vietnam.

In 2012, Uber had a short-lived motorcycle taxi pilot project in Paris.

Uber said in a statement that the UberMOTO service will initially be available in three major business and residential areas of central Bangkok. It said it will have standard Uber features such as “live GPS tracking, 2-way feedback and the ability to share trip details with family and friends.”

“We aren’t surprised when competitors recognize the need to offer services beyond private cars in this region,” Adelene Foo, regional head of GrabBike/GrabExpress, said in an email. “Motorbikes are a way of life in Southeast Asia and a critical part of the transportation ecosystem.”

Foo said a motorcycle-based business “has its own unique set of challenges, and local knowledge is essential to recruiting drivers and understanding passenger preferences.”

Uber’s original automobile service ran into legal problems in Thailand in 2014 when authorities said it was operating illegally until it met certain regulatory requirements.