Taxi industry welcomes competition on fair terms

May 10 2015

Patrick Hannaford and his colleagues at the IPA may wish to live in a world without laws. In the real world there are consequences when dangerous services such as UberX go unchecked (Taxi industry will suffer if it refuses to embrace Uber, Herald Sun, 6 May 2015).

There is a long list of examples of UberX rides going horribly wrong, these include:

  • a San Francisco bartender who was allegedly bashed in the face with a claw hammer by an UberX driver over a disagreement regarding the route;
  • a Philadelphia woman who claimed she was raped by an UberX driver who did not have his driving privileges revoked until 40 days after the incident;
  • a Chicago woman who alleged that an UberX driver fondled her leg, groin and breasts before kidnapping her and refusing to let her out of his vehicle; and
  • closer to home, an UberX driver was accused of a sexual assault in Melbourne on New Year’s Day.

Claims that UberX is safer, cheaper and more convenient than traditional taxi services are a myth.

Victoria’s taxi drivers are subjected to a strict vetting regime including having their names run through the police database each month. UberX drivers are registered with the service, but not with the police or with the regulator.

Victorian taxi fares are some of the lowest in the country and internationally competitive. UberX uses surge pricing; prices become higher as demand increases, for example during the recent Lindt Café siege or Sydney storms when the minimum fare rose to $100 per trip.

Victorian taxis are available everywhere; they service the city, the suburbs and provide a vital service in country areas, especially for the elderly and disabled passengers. UberX operates in a limited area, generally close to the CBD and ‘rates’ customers, ranking them in a central system which may mean they are refused service the next time they try to book a car.

What is often casually brushed over is that UberX operates outside the law. Taxis and hire cars are being asked to compete with a service that is playing by a completely different set of rules; their own.

There remain serious questions about whether UberX drivers have commercial insurance to protect road users and passengers, and whether UberX pays tax in Australia at all.

No one in the taxi industry objects to Uber’s other service, Uber Black. Why? Because it operates within the law and is therefore simply a new competitor.

UberX is often referred to as an innovative technology. This is mainly because of their use of smart phone applications to book and pay for the service. Uber did not invent these processes which have long existed in the taxi industry and continue to be improved.

The Victorian taxi industry is not asking for protection, it is asking for the law to be applied evenly. If the community believes that current regulations are restrictive, let's have that debate and change the law when necessary.

Finally, Patrick Hannaford’s claim that the taxi industry is hypocritical for raising concerns about Uber’s record on public and driver safety is a bit rich. This is especially the case when the IPA refuses to reveal how its membership is structured and the forces at play that determine their advocacy agenda are unknown.

The taxi industry is not seeking protection from a new competitor. Rather, we are asking for a level playing field on which we can compete.

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