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State Govt can't ignore ridesharing momentum

Opinion

The State Government needs to ride the groundswell of support for Uber ridesharing in South Australia, argues the company's Australian boss, David Rohrsheim.

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Last century—when cars were first invented—people walked in front of them waving red flags.  It seemed a sensible way to regulate a new technology at the time.  But the world moved on (quite literally), and the regulations changed.  Today, technology is once again transforming the way we get from A to B.

Smartphones have made it possible to push a button and get a safe, reliable and affordable ride, within minutes.  There’s no need to book ahead and hope the cab actually turns up, or stand on the street corner praying a taxi will come along soon.  It’s why people are signing up for services like Uber in droves, including millions across Australia.

But while the technology has progressed quickly—just six years ago an iPhone lacked the battery to power an app such as Uber—regulatory reform has been much slower.  For 18 months now, Adelaideans have been calling on the Weatherill Government to put their needs first and introduce sensible regulations so that South Australians can enjoy the benefits of ridesharing in their own State.

Apps like Uber make it so much easier for passengers to get around, safely, reliably and affordably —especially in the outskirts of cities where there is little public transport and taxis are rare.  There’s no destination discrimination.

For drivers the opportunities are enormous.  On-demand platforms like Uber are more flexible—and give workers more control over their personal schedules—than traditional full-time or even part-time models.  Drivers decide where, when, and for how long to drive.  In Adelaide alone, more than 8000 locals have already applied to drive on the Uber platform – a testament to how many South Australians want access to flexible income by sharing rides in their own car.

Finally, services like Uber can improve the quality of life in cities.   The ability to push a button and get a ride in minutes helps to reduce drink driving.  And when getting a ride is as easy as picking up your keys, walking outside and turning on the ignition— why own a car?  There is a tremendous opportunity to make better use of the empty seats in the 100,000 cars that travel through the Adelaide CBD each day.

The Weatherill Government has the keys to bringing all these benefits to this state and a golden opportunity to ensure reforms live up their own promises to put South Australians first. These are reforms that cut red tape and costs, rather than making it harder for people to access flexible work; changes that open up choice for how people get around their cities so that we’re making better use of the infrastructure and assets we already have. The Premier has a chance to introduce specific ridesharing regulations that support these benefits, and aren’t just old rules in new clothing.

Today the only voices standing against change are those who have benefited for decades from the status quo.  An alliance of taxi operators, networks and payment systems is lobbying hard to keep things as they are or penalise competition. They are calling for a “level playing field” — even though they have exclusive rights to pick up people who hail a car on the street or in a rank, which makes up the majority of the market.

in 2014, the taxi industry told InDaily that our luxury UberBLACK service would put them out of business. That hasn’t happened. Recent research by Deloitte Access Economics, with contributions from Adelaide University Professor Jonathan Pincus, showed that 61% of UberX rides across Australia were new to the market – opening the market to new customers. In the words of the chairman of the ACCC last month: “Digital disruption is the most pro-competition thing to have in the country at the moment. It’s just fantastic.”

The good news is that there’s increasing momentum for reform – reform that puts the people of South Australia first.  That means regulated ridesharing that enshrines high standards of safety, including background checks, vehicle inspections and insurance for every ride.  Greater competition that gives passengers more choice and drivers have increased economic opportunities.  And first class customer service for everyone.

The Government has a once in a lifetime opportunity to vote for reform – for the future of SA, not the past. Let’s hope common sense prevails.

David Rohrsheim is the general manager of Uber in Australia and New Zealand.

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