Taxi Council calls for level playing field as Uber expands

The Taxi Council of WA has called on the state government to either relax regulations for existing operators or hold all taxi-style transport providers to the same standard, as global app company Uber looks to set up shop in Perth.

Uber is a Google-backed company that has caused regulatory headaches in New South Wales and Victoria. It has posted several adverts for Perth-based jobs on its website, including a general manager position.

The company employs drivers who use their private cars to pick up registered users at a base rate of $3.20, charging 40 cents a minute or $1.40 a kilometre, with a minimum fare of $6.

Uber is currently in negotiations to raise new financing that may value it at more than $10 billion, and it currently offers its services in 36 countries.

However its expansion into WA has been questioned by the Taxi Council of WA, with boss Steven Gill describing the service as a huge safety risk.

“People have said the taxi industry doesn’t have a good record with safety,” he said.

“To that I say, we have all these regulatory checks and balances, police clearances, aptitude tests and so on, and bad things can still happen.

“That’s not a reason to lower the standards or throw out the standard. We actually think we should be increasing the standards.

“This is little more than organised hitchhiking for which you have to pay in a private vehicle with a private driver.”

In Victoria, the state government has issued 30 infringement notices to Uber drivers and issued $50,000 in fines, essentially for operating an unlicensed taxi service. The New South Wales government has also made it clear the service is not acceptable.

Mr Gill said his industry did not mind competition and would welcome Uber into the market, provided the state government either relaxed standards for existing operators or made Uber adhere to standard industry practices.

“We’re more than happy to compete on a service level as long as it is on a level playing field,” he said.

“The two major dispatch companies, Swan and Black and White, have a whole list of requirements they have to supply to government and police, and there are conditions on their licence which they have to comply with which cost money.

“Our concern is this model comes in, and Uber wouldn’t have to comply with those things, which we say isn’t fair.

“You either lower the requirements for the taxi dispatch services which I don’t think is in the public interest, or they force our competitors or the Uber-style smartphone apps to comply with those regulations, supplying all of their data to government.”

Mr Gill also said insurance, or lack thereof, would be a major concern for both Uber and the public.

“The insurance for taking commercial passengers is extensive,” he said.

“If you’re operating this service in a private vehicle, are you adequately covered, is the passenger adequately covered in the event of an accident? These are big questions for Uber.”

However, Transport Minister Dean Nalder said a change of regulations could be on the horizon to cater for Uber.

"We welcome organisations like Uber and others who come to us with different solutions, particularly those utilising new technology to provide greater consumer choice in taxi services," he said.

"The regulatory environment does not currently cater for these sorts of innovations and we would like to have a look at that."

He was also critical of the taxi industry as a whole and said that better regulations were needed to protect passengers and "support a more diverse taxi industry".

"I don’t believe consumers are getting the level of service they require from the taxi industry, I don’t believe drivers are sufficiently supported, and the organisations that make the biggest profits from the taxi industry are not sufficiently accountable," he said.

"We are undertaking broader reform within the taxi industry to...support a more diverse taxi industry."

Uber has been contacted for comment.

The story Taxi Council calls for level playing field as Uber expands first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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