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Free ride: UberX hits Adelaide after all

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Controversial ride-sharing service UberX began offering free services in Adelaide at midday today, one week after it promised to abandon South Australia in protest at the State Government’s regulatory regime.

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Going or staying?

The service will skirt local regulations, which come into force on July 1, because it is offering the service free “until further notice”.

The strategy, apparently designed to put pressure on the State Government to change its regulatory regime, was announced via social media, email and the Uber app to registered users in South Australia.

“We have always been passionate about what our technology could do for South Australia and we believe opening up ride-sharing technology in Adelaide today will have a positive impact on economic opportunity and choice for South Australians,” said Tom White, the general manager of Uber Adelaide.

Uber says more than 10,000 South Australians have signed up to drive with UberX with “hundreds” of local residents having passed screening processes.

But Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan questioned those figures, saying that as of last week Uber had sought to process only 50 drivers.

He said Uber wasn’t breaking any laws by offering the free service, but it was clear the company wanted to enter the South Australian market.

“They’re clearly trying to promote their services, at the same time as they’re trying to recruit drivers and establish a presence in the South Australian market,” Mullighan said.

He said Uber believed it if could encourage states like South Australia to reduce safeguards for drivers and passengers and reduce costs, they could use that as leverage in other Australian jurisdictions.

Last week, Uber said it would not operate in South Australia under the current regulatory regime, due to come into force on July 1.

It argues the South Australian costs are higher than in the ACT and NSW where UberX has been legalised. It is also concerned about the length of time it will take for Uber driver applications to be processed.

Despite its threat last week, Uber has continued to recruit senior managers and drivers.

Premier Jay Weatherill last week accused the company of “posturing” and “propaganda”, predicting that ride-sharing would be available to South Australians from July – whether from Uber or a competitor company.

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