Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Uber Cambodia Launch

Bopea Studios, Phnom Penh
September 28, 2017
(As prepared for delivery)

H.E. Pheng Sovicheano, Secretary of State, Ministry of Public Works and Transport;
Mr. Brooks Entwistle, Chief Business Officer Asia Pacific, Uber Technologies, Inc.;
Mr. Damian Kassabgi, Director, Public Policy, Asia Pacific, Uber Technologies, Inc.;
Mr. Thomas Hundt, Chief Executive Officer, Smart Axiata Co., Ltd.;
Mr. Askhat Azhikhanov, CEO, ABA Bank;
Distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen.

First of all, thank you for that very kind introduction, Brooks.

It’s terrific to be here today with all of you to join in the official launch of one of America’s most exciting and innovative technology companies in Cambodia!

As Brooks just mentioned, today marks the day that Phnom Penh joins the list of 633 cities worldwide where Uber operates – an achievement that Uber and Cambodia can rightfully be very proud of.

For tens of millions of Americans, Uber is every bit as much a part of their daily routine as a morning cup of coffee or a glance at their Facebook feed. So it’s easy to forget how recently Uber burst onto the transportation scene and the incredible changes and efficiencies it has brought to those now 634 cities around the world.

Uber started as a small company in San Francisco in 2009, and just eight years later, has grown into one of the most recognized technology companies on the planet and a pioneer in the sharing economy.

I myself am a registered Uber user—I can prove it if anyone wants to inspect my iPhone! And very honestly, I love it. It is fast, efficient, fairly priced, and above all convenient, as anyone who has ever used the application will attest. I predict that within a few months, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians will have this same opinion.

From a public policy perspective, Uber’s technologies bring some very powerful solutions to several of the most challenging systemic problems in the urban transportation sector. For example, the world has over a billion cars, but the vast majority of those cars are not in use most of the time. They sit idle, taking up parking space in our cities. That’s extraordinarily inefficient.

When cars are actually in use, however, they create a new set of problems – including increased pollution and traffic congestion. Cities across Asia, including Phnom Penh, are adding tens of thousands of cars to their roads every year. The pressure on their infrastructure and the environment in many cases has become overwhelming.

Uber’s technologies are providing solutions to these problems by offering smarter modes of transportation with fewer cars, carrying more people, that complement existing systems. Uber offers a reliable, safe and convenient way to get around while at the same time reducing transport inefficiencies that can strangle economic growth.

For anyone who has traveled recently to Singapore, you’ll know that Uber has revolutionized getting around in that city, that’s for sure!

Reducing these inefficiencies through Uber’s sharing technology holds the promise of a future where we all spend less time stuck in traffic or looking for parking spaces. It also offers a future where people will be able to spend less of their income on car ownership or commuting, both of which are important advantages in a developing country like Cambodia.

Of course, at the end of the day, Uber is a service provider, a very modern and sophisticated one, to be sure, but still a service provider. In order to thrive, and make those efficiencies I talked about a reality, it needs a well regulated market.

And on this point, I want to compliment the Cambodian government, especially the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, for working closely with Uber to design a completely new set of regulations that embrace the new technologies and new transport models of the sharing economy.

This is a complex job in any country, including Cambodia. New solutions and technologies need to be integrated into an existing policy framework that, in many cases, has existed for decades. The interests of passengers, drivers and the government need to be accounted for and balanced. Often times, existing regulations need to be amended and old rules reformed.

It reflects very well on Cambodia’s very welcoming business climate that the Ministry of Public Works and Transport did not shy away from this challenge and worked hard over the last few months to work out a supportive regulatory framework. The end result is that Cambodia now has the most forward-thinking regulatory framework for ridesharing in Asia!

There is an important public policy point here for other sectors of the economy. By embracing new technologies more quickly than its neighbors – which Cambodia has often done – and creating a favorable regulatory environment, Cambodia can quickly become a trailblazer in new technology fields.

I often hear people worry that Cambodia won’t be able to compete with its larger neighbors in various sectors, be it manufacturing, or services, or something else. But the truth is, when it comes to adopting new technologies, Cambodia’s relatively small size can be a big advantage, as larger countries often can’t adapt as quickly.

By adopting forward leaning regulations, Cambodia can send a signal to the world that it welcomes and embraces new technologies, giving cutting edge industries a strong incentivize them to come here to invest.

Thanks to the strong partnership between Uber and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the future of ridesharing – and perhaps other tech sectors – looks very bright in Cambodia. There is no reason why this sort of cooperation could not lead to equally positive results in other areas, such as financial technologies, e-commerce and ed-tech, to name but a few examples.

So with this very exciting vision in mind, I want to congratulate our friends at Uber and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport once again on a very successful partnership, and extend my heartfelt congratulations on the launch of Uber in Cambodia!

Thank you very much.