The State Government is preparing a prosecution case against local drivers who have been taking bookings from the controversial taxi competitor Uber.
Nearly two weeks after the car booking service started in Adelaide, the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure says it is preparing a case that could lead to drivers losing their hire care accreditation.
“DPTI compliance officers have been actively investigating drivers, vehicles, and operators accessing unaccredited Uber bookings,” a departmental spokesperson told InDaily.
“DPTI is currently preparing a case for prosecution, which may include drivers facing the Public Transport Standards Committee to suspend or revoke their accreditation.”
Uber is a booking service which uses a mobile “app” to connect customers with hire car drivers.
Uber says all of its local drivers are properly accredited under the Passenger Transport Act and it doesn’t expect any drivers to face fines.
Acting Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis warned last week that the service was in breach of legislation because Uber itself had not applied for hire car accreditation in SA.
He argued that a hire car office needs to have a physical location and staff in SA – not simply a mobile phone number – so that SA Police and authorised officers from DPTI can access records.
Booking offices need to be approved by the minister, the Government says.
However, Adelaide law firm Piper Alderman says the law “seems a little grey” in this area.
Tim O’Callaghan, who took over as head of Piper Alderman’s Adelaide office this week, has signed up with Uber, because he said it looked like a good service.
“According to our taxi expert, Geoff Forbes, the stated aims of the Passenger Transport Act accreditation scheme are to provide ‘an efficient and effective network of passenger transport services’ and ‘the observance of appropriate standards by the operators of passenger transport services’,” O’Callaghan told InDaily.
“Whether or not Uber must be accredited depends upon the true nature of its business. If it is a ‘Centralised Booking Service’, the Act requires it to be accredited as a centralised booking service if there is more than one participating vehicle in the service. So if Uber has only one vehicle working, it does not require accreditation, but if it takes on another vehicle, accreditation will be required.
“On the other hand, if what Uber is operating falls within the definition of a ‘passenger transport service’ (being a service consisting of the carriage of passengers for a fare) section 27 of the Act would require it to hold accreditation for that service, even if it works only one vehicle.”
Uber’s Australian general manager, former South Australian David Rohrsheim, refused to say how many drivers had signed up with Uber in Adelaide but he said the service was “growing exponentially” – indicating there was more than one.
“Response from Adelaide drivers has been tremendous – they are all excited to find extra passengers to grow their existing businesses,” he said.
When asked if Uber would provide support to drivers that faced legal action, he said: “Uber stands by our partner-drivers 100%, as we do in over 200 cities around the world.”
He stressed that the Adelaide drivers were all “established, licensed hire car drivers”.
“I find it amazing that the Treasurer (Koutsantonis) – and Minister for Small Business – wouldn’t want licensed drivers to embrace modern technology to grow their business,” he said.
“Before any SA driver can join the Uber platform, they must submit their state-issued driver accreditation, vehicle registration and insurance papers to prove that they are already a fully licensed hire car driver in South Australia.”
He said “sending Government officials to take rides with fully licensed and accredited hire car drivers seems like a waste of taxpayer money to me”.
“Uber stands by our partner-drivers 100% and since every UberBlack partner is fully licensed and complies with all local laws, I don’t expect anybody will be receiving any fines.
“Despite similar complaints from the taxi industry in NSW, the same UberBlack technology has been flourishing in Sydney for two years .”
Rohrsheim said it was clear the Government had not taken a close look at the Uber technology.
“When they do take the time to look, I am confident they will be very impressed and see that Uber is an economic opportunity for small business owners, and a huge step forward for the safety of both drivers and riders.”
Feedback from drivers and riders had been “overwhelmingly supportive”.
“Our business wouldn’t be growing exponentially if Adelaide was happy with the status quo,” he said.
“We’re here to offer a choice. If the Government is not listening to the South Australian riders and drivers who are embracing Uber, they must be must be more interested in protecting the taxi industry from competition.”
The Uber app allows customers to get a quote for a trip, check if there’s a nearby driver, book the car and then track its progress.
Customers are sent the driver’s details and photograph. Likewise, the customer’s details are retained by Uber. Then, both driver and customer can rate each other via the app.
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