Regulations continue to be a headache for ride sharing apps here in Asia. The Philippines, for example, announced in May that it would be introducing new laws specifically aimed at apps like Uber to better ensure vehicle safety and driver screening. We also reported in December that it was accused of violating laws in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, a few local players like GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi have largely managed to evade regulatory hurdles by partnering with existing taxi fleets. Uber was forced to apply for taxi licenses in New Delhi in January, around the same time an Indian woman was allegedly raped by an Uber driver in the city.

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Regulation cannot keep up with expansion

As is pointed out time and again, the root of the problem lies in the fact that these new apps and technologies are simply growing too fast for most countries to keep up with on the regulatory front, which end up lagging behind for a time and then explode back onto the scene like a rude awakening — a reminder of the difficulties of operating across highly fragmented markets like Southeast Asia.

On the expansion front, all the main players are busy. GrabTaxi expanded its motorbike taxi service to Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, in May, where it is taking on local rival Go Jek. It also started trailing a next-day courier service in Bangkok in March.

Uber’s big battle of the day is still in China; last week it emerged that the company is raising a further US$1 billion to crack the country — soon to be its largest market worldwide — after a memo from CEO Travis Kalanick was leaked to media (paywall). Check out TechCrunch’s coverage of the leak for a more in-depth picture.

Early this week, a Bloomberg report revealed that Didi Kuaidi, China’s top taxi booking app (the result of a merger between Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache earlier this year), is raising US$1.5 billion at a US$15 billion valuation “to fend off Uber” on its home turf, which is now reportedly worth US$50 billion.

On the logistics side, Hong Kong’s GoGoVan hasn’t been standing still. Tech In Asia picked up a report by Chinese startup blog 36kr last week, that stated it has raised a further US$10 million in Series B-plus funding, barely six months after its previous US$10 million round and the US$6.5 million before that in August.

What these ‘Grand Prix’ Founders have to say

I spoke to GoGoVan’s Co-founder Steven Lam over the weekend, and he told me he was keen to share the company’s latest progress and plans for China, as well as other markets such as South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, during our panel at Echelon Asia Summit 2015. Joining us on the panel will also be Uber’s Chan Park and GrabTaxi’s Cheryl Goh.

As the landscape continues to get more competitive, Lam said he was also keen to address some of the back story between his company and local Hong Kong competitor Lalamove (EasyVan) — a relationship that goes back quite some time and hasn’t always been easy, personally and professionally.

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In any case, expect things to only get more complex and messy from here. Asia is an interesting case study in this space, and one that the world is paying close attention to. A lot of precedents will be set as regulators in each of the countries continue (to attempt) to catch up with the technology, and a handful of people will get very rich.

This is one fast ride, and one that doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. It’s kind of like a Grand Prix, except the stakes being played — or raced — for, are a heck of a lot higher.

Echelon Asia Summit will be held on June 23-24 at Singapore Expo.

Lam, Goh and Chan will be speaking at Echelon Asia Summit 2015 on a panel moderated by Michael de Waal-Montgomery. The session will be on ‘The Grand Prix of Transport Matching Apps’. Check out the agenda here!

Download the Echelon Connect app for Android or iOS and get the most out of Asia’s biggest tech conference this year. Echelon Asia Summit 2015 will be a vibrant mashup of dynamic content and exhibiting startups from all around the Asia-Pacific region. The conference is on June 23 – 24, just few days left to pick up tickets!

Image Credit: The Henry Ford / Flickr