Uber has welcomed the introduction of regulations for ride-sharing services in the Australian Capital Territory, saying the new rules simply underpin its existing annual driver background checks and vehicle inspections.
“Our checks are actually of a higher standard than the taxi industry and they are backed up by a rating system that drivers must maintain if they are to be kept on the system,” said David Rohrsheim, general manager of Uber Australia.
“We won’t put cabs out of business. A cab is still the best way to get from A to B if you’re on George Street in Sydney. We just make better use of the cars that are out there … There is a top-down mood for change in Australia.”
Canberra will become the first place in Australia to allow the legal, regulated use of Uber and other ride-sharing services from October.
The ACT government said it would allow services such as Uber to enter Canberra from 30 October to offer “safe, flexible and affordable” journeys to people.
Ride-sharing vehicles will undergo accreditation and registration, including criminal and driving history checks, similar to taxi drivers.
The ACT minister for transport reform, Shane Rattenbury, said the move would put pressure on Canberra taxi drivers, many of whom staged a three-hour strike earlier this month to protest against Uber’s imminent arrival.
The ACT government will slash taxi licence fees from $20,000 to $10,000 from 30 October, with a further $5000 cut next year.
A new transport booking service will replace the existing taxi network, allowing accredited drivers to carry passengers via Uber if they meet certain standards, such as being alcohol and drug free.
“Public transport is an integral part of any city,” Rattenbury said. “These reforms are a win for Canberrans and those travelling to the territory, improving access to diverse transport options and competitive pricing.”
Uber is an app-based service that allows customers to connect with nearby drivers via GPS and pay them, via the app, for their trip. The budget UberX and more expensive UberBlack versions are available in Australia, with about 1 million people signed up to the service.
Senator David Leyonhjelm said he hoped MPs would now be able to use Uber more easily. Politicians are given Cabcharge dockets that can be used only in traditional taxis.
“I use Uber from time to time, though not much because I usually conduct my business on my motorbike,” Leyonhjelm told Guardian Australia.
“I’m an enthusiastic supporter of Uber. It’s a great example of using modern technology: it lowers costs and it gives consumers options. Using it for parliamentary work is hard because claiming it back is tedious and it’s easier to use a Cabcharge for a taxi.”
Uber, which launched in the US in 2009, is available in 60 countries and has established regulated arrangements in about 50 jurisdictions around the world.
But it is banned in some countries, such as Spain, and cities, including Berlin and Rio de Janeiro.
The Canberra Taxi Industry Association did not respond to a request for comment. However, on its website the association described Uber’s claim that its drivers are vetted through rigorous safety checks as being “proven globally to be fatally flawed with many criminals becoming approved Uber drivers”.
It also stated that the recent strike was arranged by drivers “concerned about the arrival of a multinational company threatening their financial viability and livelihood”.
Rohrsheim said the only reason some people thought the service was unsafe was “a massive fear campaign – billboards that say Uber is no safer than hitchhiking. Choice [the consumer advocacy group] put out a report which completely debunked that,” he said.
Other Australian states and territories have undertaken reviews of ride-sharing services. Victoria, which has completed its review, is expected to be the next jurisdiction to decide whether to allow the regulated use of Uber.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010