YouBikeGate 2019 – Foreigners Being Forgotten About in Policy-making

The Taipei City rental bike company, YouBike, recently made the decision to offer insurance for users. This insurance came at a price, and it wasn’t just monetary. Foreign nationals that weren’t already registered on YouBike were unable to register for the service, and foreigners that were already registered would not be given the insurance locals would have. The news didn’t break to the international community in Taipei until December 16th.

This all happened because the Taipei Government decided to give YouBike customers insurance. However, they were unable to give foreigners insurance. The most likely explanation is that insurance companies were hesitant to give foreign nationals, tourists or residents, coverage. The city council voted, and a majority decided that they would go ahead with the new policy for YouBike insurance.

The fallout was big, though. The new scheme required any new users to submit  Taiwanese ID, and the system wouldn’t accept passport numbers, ARC IDs or APRC IDs. Worse yet, foreigner users that were already registered were not insured because they couldn’t submit IDs. They paid the same price as locals without any coverage.

It was a mess. Now foreign nationals couldn’t rent bikes, and tourists, after being shown the wonders of Taiwan’s immense public transit system were blocked from using a great bike rental service.

The response from YouBike

YouBike got bombarded with emails asking for clarification. It was little wonder either, pages like mine and the website Forumosa set the story ablaze. I reached out to my followers with the news, and I also touched base with several journalists because I felt like the whole issue was discriminating against foreigners nationals.

With so much disappointment and collective action from foreign residents being channeled into complaints, YouBike was bombarded with emails. Nobody was really expecting anything particularly special to happen. It wasn’t as if they would fix the issue many of us thought, but we may as well try and get their attention. Their response would be hilarious if it wasn’t so demeaning.

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YouBike was asking customers to commit insurance fraud. The usual “ask a Taiwanese friend to help you” echoed out. In other words, take your friend’s ID, pretend to be them, and whatever.

This was 差不多oing things at a whole new level.

  1. Foreigners were being asked to commit fraud
  2. Foreigners would have to pay a deposit of NT$2000 each time they rented a bike. There would be no refund of the deposit until 15 days later.

The international community lost it. People were extremely confused by why YouBike was doing this, and why the Taipei government was doing this. Why would they cut off all foreign nationals to YouBike? Why were we being charged a crazy rate of NT$2,000 per rental in deposits?

The reason was pretty simple. Nobody thought about tourists or foreign residents. It’s that simple. That’s the sad truth. Nobody thought foreigners were important enough to be included.

YouBikeGATE Only Being Half Resolved

After a lot of complaining from foreign nationals and local Taiwanese, YouBike and the Taipei City Council finally decided to act. They stated that YouBikes would be available to foreign nationals with ARCs and APRCs come Christmas eve in 2019. I almost thought the end of their message would say 2020 because I had that much hope in them at this stage. The mayor, Ko Wen-je, got wind of the issue and immediately got onto those in charge and told them to fix the issue right away. They said they’d fix it by the 24th, he said fix it by tomorrow.

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I’m not the mayor’s biggest fan after his fiasco with starting his own party, but fair play to him. He turned around this issue faster than any other politician I’ve ever seen in Taiwan. If only he was in the DPP and was helped with the same-sex marriage stuff that the DPP was terrified of passing through.

So, everyone pats themselves and each other on the backs. Yes! Collective action worked. We now can get YouBikes for foreign residents. It’s not ideal because tourists can’t get access to YouBikes outside of using credit cards to pay an insane deposit of NT$2,000 per YouBike.

But hey, the first step for foreign residents worked! Or did it?

The System Worked for Some and Not for Others

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As of December 19th, a great number of foreigners were unable to use their ARC and APRCs IDs to update their account or create a new one. The system didn’t work. It looks like it won’t be until December 24th that we will be able to use our ARCs and APRCs.

Update: The system has been working for more people, and it appears that foreign residents can now update and register for YouBike.

However, the main issue, in my opinion, hasn’t been resolved; tourist rentals. This is huge Taipei has created an international image of being friendly. It is friendly, and amazing. I love Taipei. From 阿媽’s calling me 帥哥 to getting the MRT and feeling like “this is what public transport in heaven feels like” Taipei is just fantastic.

With that said, not caring or even putting any consideration into tourist YouBike rental is insane. The arguments for the NT$2,000 were all pretty lame. “Tourists don’t pay fees!” “they steal the bikes!” “they don’t know the traffic laws and cause problems!” “foreigners are just complaining.” My response to foreigners and locals making these comments is this:

  1. Sure, some tourists either forget or don’t care about outstanding fees. It’s not cool. However, these fees are tiny compared to what Taiwanese landlords don’t pay in their taxes for their rental income. If you’re so focused on a couple of foreigners owing NT$100 on a bike rental instead of tax dodgers in your country owing hundreds of billions of dollars, you just sound xenophobic.
  2. Sure, tourists break traffic laws, but so does everyone in Taiwan. Funny enough, if you don’t break traffic laws, you’ll probably cause an accident.
  3. Yes, foreigners are complaining and look where it got us. A response from the government, a promise to fix things, and even the mayor of Taipei took an interest in the issue. Complaining works.

The first response comes off as a bit of a silly argument. One wrong never washes another away. However, it can’t be denied that a foreigner owing a couple of hundred dollars should not equate to all foreigners are too unreliable; therefore, they must all pay NT$2,000 in deposits each time they rent. It’s a question of being trusted.

YouBikeGate Was a Focal Point of Foreigners Being Forgotten About

Let me list off some real-life scenarios when foreigners are forgotten about or when they’re not being trusted:

  1. You’re denied a credit card because you can’t be trusted to pay back your credit
  2. You’re denied a debit card (for reasons I can’t even think of)
  3. You need to have a guarantor when getting a phone plan in case you run away with the phone and don’t pay.
  4. You need to pay a deposit for a phone plan in case you run away with the phone and don’t pay.
  5. You can’t get a broadband plan because you’re ARC expires in 3 months, and you might run away
  6. You’re denied a bank loan because the bank is worried you could run away with the money like a cartoon villain

These are just five common scenarios when businesses just don’t trust you. Hell, go apartment hunting as a foreigner in Taiwan. You will see immediately that landlords will discriminate you. Fluent Mandarin or no Mandarin, they think the worst of you. With that said, I’ve had some amazing landlords. Still, it cannot be denied that the discrimination in the rental market is pretty atrocious. That’s what you get for having a heavily unregulated rental system.

YouBike was a focal point for foreign annoyance. In any of the above scenarios, we are all alone. We all don’t feel the pain and annoyance of listening to someone tell us they can’t trust us, or tell us that foreigners, no matter if you lived here 10 days or 10 years, can’t be trusted with something as simple a phone. Then, on the 16th of December, we find out we can’t be trusted with bike rentals we’ve been using for over 10 years.

We all felt that same pain and annoyance that we feel in phone shops and banks. This time, however, we all acted together. We got results, and someone listened. It just goes to show that when a community is collectively affected at once that the response can be resoundingly powerful.

The YouBike Issue Isn’t Over Yet

With over 11 million tourists visiting Taiwan in 2018, and with a large group of them coming to Taipei, it doesn’t make sense for the YouBike to be cut off from tourists. The NT$2,000 deposit through a credit card is not a solution. It is more insulting than there not being a solution.

If Taipei wants to continue to create an image of itself being friendly, then the city officials need to give tourists access to YouBikes again. It’s not rocket science. In Dublin, tourists can use the local Dublin Bikes with a 3-day pass for the equivalence of NT$150.

I’m not saying YouBikes will destroy Taipei’s image abroad, but it does go so far as to alienate foreign residents.

That sucks. Why?

We’re already alienated from banks, government websites that won’t accept ARCs, government agencies that deny us the same discounts as locals for Gogoro’s, being denied loans for being foreigners, and for not being trusted with phone plans because discrimination from companies is fine apparently.

The YouBike situation will hopefully spring foreigners to more action to start creating dialogues between each other. With that, maybe we can start to take collective action to press politicians and local representatives to start making changes to make Taiwan stay as the top expat destination.

As much as I am complaining, I will make it clear; I only complain because I care. I want Taiwan to stay at the number 1 spot of expat destinations. I want more tourists to come to Taipei and enjoy the city. I want foreign residents like myself to feel equal to locals in most regards, and to feel a part of society. I also want not to feel like I can’t be trusted. Not with a bike, phone, or a freakin’ loan. I complain because I care, not because I want attention, and to push my privilege around.

 

 

 

Tomás Swinburne

One thought on “YouBikeGate 2019 – Foreigners Being Forgotten About in Policy-making

  1. Man, this reminds me of the time I complained to Chunghwa Telecom about not being able to reset my password to their app. The app was showing errors that had something to do with me not having a Taiwan ID (ain’t surprising at all). Called them over the phone and was met with a “WELP nothing we can do about that, sorry!” :/ Glad the Youbike thing’s been mostly sorted, but Taiwan has a loong way to go when it comes to actually learning to trust foreigners.

    Like

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