Controversial car travel app Uber is eyeing the Wellington market but the taxi federation says it is illegal under New Zealand law and warns that it is "sugar-coated poison" that will lead to higher fares.
Uber has denied claims it was operating illegally since it started in May in Auckland, where people can book a ride from motorists who are not cabbies.
The New Zealand Transport Agency said Uber was effectively acting as a booking agent for a network of private hire service providers - not as a taxi firm - and those private hire services were a long-established form of passenger service in New Zealand.
Uber spokesman Oscar Peppitt was coy about when the app, which is in more than 140 cities around the world, would be unleashed in New Zealand but the company had advertised for marketing and operations managers in Auckland and Wellington.
Uber connects cars with passengers through its global positioning system-enabled smartphone app. Transactions are cashless, and friends can digitally fare-split and receive email receipts.
In New Zealand, Peppitt said, Uber was "not a ride-sharing app".
"We work with fully licensed hire car operators, most of them taxi drivers looking to earn additional income. All partners are vetted by NZTA processes, and the NZTA's ‘Driver Check' ."
Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said they had been assured that all drivers providing services through Uber were appropriately licensed and had undergone "fit and proper person" checks.
"The service that Uber offers in New Zealand is based on the use of existing private hire services. As such the drivers are all required to hold passenger endorsements on their drivers' licences, are subject to driving hour limits and are required to keep logbooks that record their driving hours."
But New Zealand Taxi Federation executive director Roger Heale said their biggest concern was the legality and safety of the app. "The app is currently illegal in New Zealand," he said.
Uber bypassed legislation and strict criteria that the taxi industry had to follow, he said.
"The metering system isn't authorised and they don't want to change it because they want to be able to bring in surge pricing. For those people who complain about the cost of taxi fares, you ain't seen nothing yet.
"It's our job to educate the drivers and the public that this is sugar-coated poison."
However, Knackstedt said a "private hire service" such as Uber "charges a set fee agreed in advance between the customer and the service provider".
- Fairfax Media