Published in THE AUSTRALIAN
SEPTEMBER 28, 2015
Shane Rodgers, Queensland Editor Brisbane
Taxi drivers attend an Uber protest in Brisbane.
The Queensland Taxi Council has warned that the battle between taxis and ride-sharing business Uber is only the beginning of a major war between traditional, highly regulated businesses and new disruptive players.
The warning came as Uber confirmed it was identifying and blocking state government transport compliance offers from booking share rides after 1500 drivers were hit with $1.7 million in fines in its first year of operation.
Taxi Council chief executive Benjamin Wash said Uber effectively was operating an illegal taxi service and flouting state regulations. He said this was largely unprecedented and was opening the way for a major policy battleground that would engulf many industries.
Uber competition was beginning to hit the market value of taxi licences in Queensland, with drivers carrying debt on licence purchases being asked to provide more security or make higher repayments on loans that were now considered riskier.
Mr Wash said blocking of state government officers from the Uber app was an escalation in Uber’s efforts to avoid legal compliance and scrutiny.
“They are moving out of the realm of civil disobedience to active avoidance,” he said.
“It’s something policymakers in Australia and overseas would struggle to understand. What legitimate big corporate business does that?”
Mr Wash said the broader business community had to brace for similar battles, with Uber already moving into the delivery of sandwiches made in private kitchens overseas, a potential challenge to traditional food regulations.
“I think the signal here is far more than taxis,” he said.
“We’re just the first place where this is being played out. There are huge implications for all other sectors and all other industries over time.”
The Queensland government, like most state administrations, has announced a review of the point-to-point transport system. Katter’s Australian Party MP Rob Katter has introduced a bill to parliament seeking to take demerit points from drivers doing ride-sharing through the Uber app.
Uber director of public policy Brad Kitschke said some transport compliance officers had been blocked from using Uber because they breached the guidelines.
“We have very stringent protocols on the platform,” he said.
“We require for safety purposes for everyone on the platform to be who they say they are. ”
Mr Kitschke said Uber could offer only a small proportion of the service offered by taxis and it would be poor public policy to expect it to comply with the same regulations.