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Uber launches air and water services as it looks to China

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Taxi app Uber has set its sights beyond the roads of China with a push into the air and on water as the U.S. company adds helicopters and boats to its ride-hailing services.

The company will on Friday unveil UberChopper, a sightseeing helicopter ride above Shanghai that will cost Rmb2,999 ($484), including transport in a Mercedes-Benz to and from the helipad.

The event is a one-day promotion designed to "raise awareness" of Uber, and gauge interest in airborne services. "Depending on market demand and user interest, we will further explore potential for air travel as a possibility," the company said, as it introduces a service already used in other countries including the US, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The company has also rolled out a boat-hailing service in the southern city of Hangzhou's scenic West Lake in the past month as well as a trial rickshaw-hailing service in downtown Beijing.

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Uber is a relative latecomer to the Chinese market and faces competition from local players Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, which have sewn up the lower end of the market. The pair announced a merger in March, creating a Goliath in the Chinese car-hailing industry.

A study by Beijing-based Enfodesk, an internet consultancy, late last year put Kuaidi's share of the taxi app market at 56.5 per cent and Didi's at 43.3 per cent — leaving 0.2 per cent for "other" participants.

However, Uber said it was more competitive in the high-end of the market — via its UberBlack service, which features Audis and other luxury cars — while also offering a bargain basement "People's Uber" service.

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The company is no stranger to controversy with Chinese regulators. Authorities have cracked down on private cars using internet-hailing apps in an attempt to protect state-regulated taxi companies whose fares are capped. Many of China's largest taxi companies are owned by municipal government entities.

The Chinese government has made an effort recently to regulate the ride-hailing app market. The ministry of transport said last week that private car services "can meet market demands for high quality and diverse methods of transport".

However, it added: "Issues remain in private car services, such as illegal operations, obscure responsibilities for platforms, and little guarantee of the passenger's consumer rights and personal safety."