Red light for Uber in Australia

JACOB SAULWICK AND BEN GRUBB
Last updated 14:24 30/04/2014
Louise Kennerley
Uber Sydney general manager David Rohrsheim says Australians want "ridesharing".

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Transportation authorities in Australia's most populous state have appeared to rule out smartphone apps that allow motorists who are not taxi or hire car drivers to receive money for offering lifts.

In response to a new service offered by Uber, which allows non taxi drivers to offer a taxi-like service, Transport for New South Wales said on Wednesday that all drivers needed to be accredited under the Passenger Transport Act.

This would rule out Uber's "ride-sharing" service, though not apps that make it easier for taxi customers to book an authorised cab or hire car.

"The law is clear and has not changed: if a NSW driver is taking paying members of the public as passengers, the driver and the vehicle must operate in accordance with the Passenger Transport Act," Transport for NSW said in a statement on Wednesday morning.

“Under the Act, such services must be provided in a licensed taxi or hire car, by an appropriately accredited driver, authorised by Roads and Maritime Services," the statement said.

“A person who carries on a public passenger service in breach of the Act may face prosecution and fines of up to $110,000.

"However, these laws do not apply to, for example, a group of friends sharing expenses or a car pooling arrangement between colleagues sharing a ride to the office.”

Despite Transport for NSW's statement, Uber Sydney general manager David Rohrsheim said he was confident Uber was building "the safest, most reliable, most affordable transportation option for consumers".

"We’ve had regular positive discussions with the NSW Government for some time," he said.

"We know they are watching this ride-sharing trial very closely, and they will be very interested to hear the feedback from customers. Early feedback from drivers and passengers has been overwhelmingly supportive."

Transport for NSW's response follows a similar statement from the Victorian Taxi Service Commissioner, Graham Samuel, who said the services didn't appear to be complying with Victorian law.

Last week, NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian and her department sent mixed messages over whether the ride-sharing apps were legal in NSW.

Berejiklian's department said on Wednesday last week that NSW's Roads and Maritime Services had requested a meeting with Uber to discuss how the NSW Passenger Transport Act applied to the service, and how Uber would respond to its obligations under the act.

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But in a radio interview on Thursday night, Berejiklian appeared to concede that there was no problem unless Uber called itself a "taxi service".

"You don't want to limit people's choice because, at the end of the day, it does come down to choice," Berejiklian said on 2GB.

The NSW Taxi Council has called on the government to intervene and regulate the ride-sharing apps.

"This has to be dealt with before it gets out of hand," NSW Taxi Council chief executive Roy Wakelin-King said last week.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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