Uber could be banned if it doesn't comply with the law: Transport minister
If Uber doesn't start following the law one option is to take all its drivers off the road, Transport Minister Simon Bridges says.
"The Government has zero tolerance for illegal behaviour."
There was no assurance Uber was safe for passengers, and drivers needed to comply with the law, "not mock" it, Bridges said. If they don't, one option is for the company to be banned.
But Government support partners ACT and UnitedFuture say it's the law that needs to change to keep up with innovative technology.
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While Bridges wouldn't say whether he would feel safe if himself or his family used an Uber - he would discourage Kiwis from using Uber if a driver didn't have a passenger endorsement.
"I don't think I'm trying to be clever with you. I can't say as a matter of definition whether an Uber taxi is safe or not safe but what I can say to New Zealanders very clearly is that there is a lack of assurance about safety."
The $60 million business has refused to comply with the New Zealand Transport Agency's (NZTA) vetting policy and to date only 14 drivers have been ordered off the road since April
"They're breaking the law and there's no assurance of safety there," he said.
But Uber said safety was a top priority for the company.
"We would be willing to meet with the Government to discuss a path forward that puts consumer safety first and makes it possible for everyday Kiwis to share rides in their spare time," a spokesperson said.
"Although the Government has publicly recognised the benefits of ridesharing, it has failed to address the key issue that its expensive and time consuming process can prevent kiwis from sharing rides, and reduces consumer choice."
There were "dozens and dozens of drivers" who were being dealt with by NZTA for breaking the law, Bridges said.
NZ First leader Winston Peters says complying with the law is what everyone had to do and nobody should "support law breakers, whoever they might be".
As for banning the service altogether, Labour leader Andrew Little said it "sounds to me over the top".
"I know it's a well-utilised service…[but] I think it's important for Uber to accept that the reason we have regulatory standards is for public safety, and they should be complying with it."
ACT leader David Seymour said banning Uber's technology would make New Zealand the "laughing stock of the world".
"Of course we want to be safe, the question is whether a real time electronic feedback mechanism that assesses drivers previous behaviour and safety ... is going to be more reliable than a Government check that, surprise surprise, also misses a lot of people."
He said Bridges had softened his stance and "clearly somebody had got to him".
"He was brave on this and now he's not. The only way that a courageous minister passionate about technology like Simon Bridges could reverse his position like this, that I can imagine, is that someone must have got to him," Seymour said.
UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said the battle with Uber was a "forerunner of what's to come across economies" and New Zealand was not "well placed to deal with it".
"I don't think you can just regulate Uber out of existence."
Dunne said Uber, like Airbnb, is changing the face of the typical business model and it's "regulatory patch protection" from taxi companies battling increased competition in the market.
While Uber is doing its own Ministry of Justice and driver licence checks before deciding if someone can drive - these tests aren't enough to make them legal and qualify for a P endorsement.
Under Uber checks there is no evidence of specified criminal convictions beyond seven years, traffic offending beyond seven years, medical fitness to drive, charges laid by police, history of behavioural problems and complaints to police, persistent failure to pay fines, past transport service related complaints or overseas criminal convictions.
Under the law all Uber drivers are required to have a P endorsement passenger carrying licence but when the Ministry of Transport failed to deliver changes under a promised regulatory review, Uber went rogue and since April has refused to comply.
Becoming a qualified compliant Uber driver used to be a process that took several months and cost up to $2000 - now it takes less than a week and costs $20.
Bridges said he was happy with how NZTA was dealing with the illegal drivers. So far NZTA has issued 30 infringement notices and served 79 official warnings to at least 1700 Uber drivers on the road.
"(NZTA) are looking at not only the prosecutions we've got going on at the moment in relation to individual drivers but also what could happen to Uber as a company. But we're not there yet, it is quite complex," he said.
"You can't just magic up enforcement in this area, the law has to be followed. They have to do things in good faith."
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