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.
Illegal taxis place lives in danger through alcohol limits and smartphone use
The peak body representing the Queensland taxi industry is warning of the dangers of illegal services that do not regulate drivers to have a zero alcohol reading.
Under state transport laws, Queensland taxi drivers must always show a alcohol zero limit, and risk suspension and other penalties if found to have breached the strict regulations.
Taxi Council Queensland chief executive officer Benjamin Wash says disregarding a zero alcohol limit poses serious safety concerns for customers who expect their drivers to be 100 per cent focused behind the wheel.
“Taxi drivers can not drink, full stop. A driver of an illegal taxi service can have a couple of drinks before getting on the road and picking up a passenger.”
He said it was impossible for illegal taxi services like uber to enforce their own blood alcohol limits because their drivers were not breaking the law by drinking and driving.
“Coupled with them having to use smartphones and digital devices, it is clear their concentration is less than what it should be,” Mr Wash said.
He pointed out that the recent introduction of heavier penalties for drivers caught using mobile devices is welcome but not a major concern for taxi drivers because they don’t need to use phones to receive bookings.
“Queensland taxis use a sophisticated but safe dispatch system. They are 100 per cent focused on what is in front of them and face minimal distractions.”
Queensland Police research shows 22 per cent of all motor vehicle crashes are a result of driver distraction through using digital devices.
“Our drivers are not required to communicate this way and it is simply naive to think that illegal taxi operators will self-regulate to not use their phone while driving when it offers them a pickup.”
Queensland’s Taxi Council has strongly endorsed a private members bill proposed yesterday by the Katter Australian Party that calls for greater penalties for illegal taxi services, saying it was time that the Government became serious about the law.
Taxi Council Queensland chief executive officer Benjamin Wash said uber has been defying the law for too long and laughing in the faces of regulators and governments.
“In every other part of society the law is upheld and offenders are prosecuted, yet because this big foreign monopoly has money to pay fines and doesn’t care about Queensland’s transport safety regulations it appears everyone is scared to act.”
Mr Wash said he couldn’t open a restaurant without abiding by food safety regulations nor could he open a medical practice without the necessary qualifications and licensing, so “how can we stand by and allow illegal taxis to operate without any safety regulations that protect Queenslanders and ensure a level playing field for genuine taxis which are abiding by the law.”
He said “enough is enough” and has called on both Labor and the LNP to pass the Katter bill with the greatest of urgency.
He also wants the media to play a more responsible role.
“The media are continually giving uber credibility even though they are operating illegally. This is unheard of and outrageous and would never happen with any other person or company that breaks the law.”
“uber are an illegal taxi service, and are spawning copycats across Queensland. Right now anyone, anywhere can start to drive their private cars and transport the public and the Government is letting it happen.
“This will become a nightmare.
“We’ve already seen assaults with no camera evidence by uber drivers across Australia, and without enforcement of regulations nothing will be able to stop any sexual predator or person with the wrong motives starting their own illegal taxi service.”