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Premier flags taxi industry shake-up

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Visitors to South Australia soon could be welcomed at the airport by an idling row of London-style black cabs, the Premier has revealed.

Jay Weatherill says he’s embraced the notion, first floated last year by hotel industry supremo Peter Hurley, and hinted that the state could look at procuring the unique tourism curios, since with Holden’s imminent departure “we don’t have to promote a so-called local manufacturer any more”.

The Premier yesterday addressed an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce luncheon, and was asked a question by Uber marketing manager Mal Chia about taxi industry deregulation.

“I actually do have a view about the taxi industry – it’s often the front door for how people experience our state,” Weatherill said.

He noted that a major objective of the state’s tourism plan was that “by 2017 we’ll have a measurably different and excellent service offering here in SA”, before reflecting glowingly on the concept of London black-cabs welcoming visitors at Adelaide Airport.

“They’re a very attractive form of travel and would create a distinctly South Australian experience,” he said.

Ironically, only last year thousands of London taxi drivers took part in a massive Europe-wide protest against the introduction of Uber.

The cabbies drove deliberately slowly around London’s West End, causing major traffic delays, after Transport for London approved the boutique competitor’s city operation.

Uber initially met with antagonism from the SA Government, which declared passenger safety “at risk” and threatened operators with legal action.

However, Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan subsequently relented to allow the company’s UberBlack services — provided by accredited hire car drivers – to operate.

UberX services, whose drivers use unregulated vehicles, remain illegal.

Weatherill noted that the initial “regulatory barrier to (Uber) has been overcome”, and hinted at more sweeping changes.

“I am interested in reform of the taxi industry,” he said.

“Whether that’s consistent with complete deregulation, I don’t know … I imagine you’d get some pretty wild disparity in quality if you went for a completely deregulated environment, but we are thinking carefully about the tourism experience (as it relates to taxi industry).”

Uber’s Australia & New Zealand General Manager, David Rohrsheim, told InDaily in a statement that the company was “having very constructive conversations with the South Australian government on the positive impact ride-sharing could have in the state, including its impact on tourism”.

“We welcomed the government’s approval of our UberBlack option and believe Adelaide’s reputation as a leading tourist destination will only be enhanced by UberX also being available as a safe, reliable and affordable transport alternative,” he said.

Taxi Council SA CEO Johan Revalk said the industry “understands, values and respects the important role it has in supporting tourism, business and the community”.

He said the Taxi Council supported previous reforms to ensure all new drivers held an Australian licence for six months and had working knowledge of Adelaide.

“Taxi Council SA is enthusiastic about working with the Premier and the Government to further support the vision to provide an excellent tourism experience and the best taxi service in Australia,” he said.

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