Rideshare safety concerns with ‘lifts for cash’ offered on social media


Australians are being warned about the potential dangers of illegal, underground rideshare services that are operating across the country — largely through social media.

t follows an incident on the New South Wales’ Central Coast, where an 18-year-old man allegedly ran down and seriously injured two passengers on Sunday.

The driver, who is facing six serious charges, is accused of stealing his father’s car while drunk to pick up the passengers who are minors.

The incident is the latest in a series of controversies surrounding rideshare services.

Authorities are seriously concerned about the prevalence of ‘rogue’ groups nationwide — with people offering “lifts for cash” on social media and through phone apps.

There are fears about the safety of people who use these services, which lack scrutiny as well as various security measures provided by taxis and official rideshare services.

One Facebook group states: “under no circumstances are any of the admins responsible for your health and safety. Enter cars at your own risk”.

“If you have any problems with a driver please don’t get into the car with them, ask for another driver if you prefer to.”

Industry representative body, Ride Share Drivers Association of Australia (RSDAA) maintains those platforms provide no protections for drivers or passengers.

“If anything happens you’ve got no way of knowing who or what or where or why,” RSDAA secretary Les Johnson said.

“There’s no way I would recommend anyone uses a service that’s not fully authorised.”

The Australian Taxi Industry Association agrees, pointing out it’s a rigorous process for them to comply with the government’s safety regulations.

“Typically to be a provider of a public passenger service you need to be an experienced driver, have held an open licence for three years, you need to have a clean driving record to make sure you’re a safe driver,” CEO Blair Davies said.

“All of these things are important, they’ve traditionally been a part of the taxi industry. They’ve in part been adopted for new business models but many of these Facebook groups are avoiding these requirements.”

Taxis also have compulsory security measures including hard-wired GPS systems inside the taxis and mandatory 24-hour security cameras in the cars.

An Uber spokesperson said prospective drivers must be 18 years or older and undergo criminal background check before gaining access to the Uber app.

Passengers must be 18 years or over to use the service and minors must be accompanied by an adult.

The spokesperson said Uber had an on-call law enforcement team that works with police to respond to urgent matters and assist in investigations, should passengers require it.

The New South Wales Point-to-Point Transport Commissioner, Anthony Wing regulates taxis and rideshare services.

He acknowledged unauthorised rideshare groups are a problem and said the Commission was working to shut them down.

So far this year, 30 unauthorised services have been identified but no fines were issued because the drivers cooperated with authorities.

“It’s 30 people we want to either get authorised and run a proper professional service with safety features or shut up shop,” Commissioner Wing said.

He said authorities are prepared to prosecute with fines of up to $110,000.

“If they’re not authorised they need to get authorised or stop. If they don’t stop we will follow them up and prosecute.”

In July, Victoria’s regulator and Victoria Police cracked down on unaccredited drivers operating through services like ‘Lifts for Cash’ on Facebook, hitting them with almost $2,000 fines.

Seventeen drivers were charged in just two days.

But the Taxi Association CEO has questioned the ability for State Governments to adequately police unregulated rideshare services.

Mr Davies claims changes State Governments made to regulations in 2015 and 2016 to recognise rideshare services like Uber, have made the sector vulnerable.

“Governments now need to look at the unintended consequences of some of their regulations,” he said.

“They need to pass new rules and regulations that allow their enforcement officers to get in there, find these people, penalise them and make sure the practice stops, so passengers trust in the services they’re buying.”