Ride-Services Giant Uber Launches (Softly) on Phnom Penh Streets

A select group of Phnom Penh’s tech enthusiasts have been let in on a secret: Uber, the massively popular ride-sharing app, has officially dipped its toe into Cambodian waters.

Multiple people have reported participating in a testing phase for the company, getting rides from Uber drivers on the streets of the capital, while LinkedIn shows four Phnom Penh-based jobs advertised for the ride-sharing app, the most recent posted on Sunday.

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Uber representatives Chan Park, left, and Brian Shroder in a meeting with Commerce Minister Pan Sorasak in January in a photograph posted to the ministry’s Facebook page

Uber representatives in Cambodia have not yet confirmed the launch, and they did not respond to an email request for comment.

“Uber had been gearing up to launch for a while and they had come into Cambodia earlier this year, so I was actively keeping my eyes and ears open for their latest updates,” said Maya Gilliss Chapman, founder of Cambodians in Tech and one of the early riders, referring to media reports of Uber representatives’ meetings with government ministers. Ms. Gilliss Chapman wrote a post about how to use Uber in Cambodia after her Uber rides on the WhenInPhnomPenh blog.

Ros Khemara, a regional access-to-finance manager at the Asian Development Bank, said he was invited last Saturday to use Uber’s services at a discounted price via a Khmer-language text message, which he later posted to his Facebook page.

A frequent Uber user in other countries in the region, Mr. Khemara said he trusted the brand to adapt to a less regulated Cambodian traffic environment.

“I don’t know yet about their safety standard in Cambodia, [but] my experience in other countries showed that it was safe,” Mr. Khemara said. “I believe they have proper profile of the drivers.”

While Uber only accepts payment through credit card or Paypal in most countries, Ms. Gilliss Chapman reported that drivers were accepting paper currency in Cambodia, a country with a cash-heavy economy.

Bun Tharum, a popular tech blogger, said he thought the app would fit nicely into the Cambodian market.

“I don’t really think the city has enough transportation service providers just yet,” he said in an email. “The convenience of ordering a ride with reasonable price (without being ripped off) offers an ideal choice.”

However, Ms. Gilliss Chapman said she would take a wait-and-see approach to Uber’s future in Cambodia.

“With new leadership coming in at Uber, they will surely reevaluate the business as a whole,” she said, referencing Travis Kalanick’s resignation as Uber’s CEO on Tuesday, capping months of scandals at the company involving sexual harassment and legal troubles.

“With so much in flux at Uber right now, anything is possible.”

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