BEIJING (Reuters) - China's transport minister said on Thursday he hopes to have regulations issued on using mobile apps to book private cars within the first half of 2015, state media reported, amid doubts on the legal status in China of Uber and similar services.
In January, China's Ministry of Transport banned taxi hailing apps such as Uber Technologies Inc and local rivals Kuaidi Dache and Didi Dache, who have since announced a merger, from using cars and drivers without taxi licenses in a bid to regulate the rapidly growing sector.
The Ministry of Transport has finished evaluating opinions on regulating private drivers, and will seek public comment after the annual full session of China's parliament, said Yang Chuantang, the ministry's chief, according to the official China National Radio (CNR). The parliamentary session concludes on March 15.
"I'm hopeful (the regulations) will be published within the first half of the year," CNR quoted Yang as saying.
January's ban hit Uber and its rivals just weeks after Chinese internet firm Baidu Inc invested an undisclosed amount for an undisclosed stake in San Francisco-based Uber.
Since then, the status of Uber in China and the private car-hailing functions of taxi hailing apps Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache has been uncertain. Didi is backed by social networking and gaming firm Tencent Holdings Ltd and Kuaidi by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
Uber, Didi and Kuaidi were not immediately available for comment. Baidu declined to comment.
Private car services have a positive effect on the transport market, said Yang, according to a separate report from official state news agency Xinhua.
But there are currently private car services where private cars are operating illegally, the responsibility of the operators isn't clear and passengers' safety and legal rights are not protected, creating a taxi market with unfair competition and other issues, Xinhua cited Yang as saying.
Last month, Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache said they would merge to create one of the world's largest smartphone-based transport services.
Reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman