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State Govt goes undercover to bust illegal Uber drivers

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State Government investigators have been posing as customers and booking Uber vehicles to bust drivers operating illegally in South Australia, InDaily can reveal.

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The Government has confirmed that it sends “investigations staff” across metropolitan Adelaide to book trips, posing as customers for Uber vehicles – and sometimes taxis – to catch unaccredited drivers.

A spokesperson said the Government engaged “investigations staff who undertake on-road operations with compliance officers, primarily targeting point-to-point operations [such as Uber]”.

“This may involve booking a taxi, chauffeur vehicle or point-to-point service as a customer in order to identify whether the driver, vehicle and booking service are accredited and compliant.”

The Government is yet to legally authorise Uber’s mobile booking application.

Drivers collecting fares through Uber’s app are liable for hefty fines.

In total, 219 Uber drivers – more than one in five – have been slapped with fines, most costing $375, since the Government introduced its passenger transport industry reforms last year.

The spokesperson said compliance and investigations officers checked “all sections of the passenger transport industry such as taxis, chauffeur vehicles and point-to-point operations” to ensure they were operating within the law.

Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan told InDaily the Government had employed extra compliance officers to deal with an influx of new competitors, such as Uber, entering the industry in recent years.

“The State Government will not tolerate individuals putting passengers at risk and will continue to conduct compliance activities to crack down on unaccredited drivers and unlicensed vehicles,” Mullighan said.

“We use the same compliance activities across the industry, whether it be taxis, chauffeur vehicles or ride-sharing.”

Mullighan said compliance officers also inspected vehicles, acted on complaints and checked taxi security cameras and meters, driver identity and accreditation.

During the past month, Government officers:

Uber conducts private criminal background checks, driver history checks and vehicle inspections before it allows any new driver “partner” to use its app – but does not require drivers to gain accreditation from the Government.

The global transport network company says it is in the process of applying to get its platform legally accredited, but it is waiting on State Government feedback before its application can progress.

“We’ve been working with the South Australian Government to finalise our application for accreditation under the new regulations and look forward to seeing further guidance from the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure on this as soon as possible,” an Uber spokesperson said.

“In the meantime, all Adelaide driver-partners will continue to undergo background screening, including driver history, criminal background and vehicle safety checks, before they can access the Uber app.”

“Nobody should be penalised for providing safe, affordable and reliable rides in their city, and we stand by our partners should they have any issues as a result of using the app.”

The company is unwilling, however, to explain how it “stands by” drivers caught unaccredited while Uber negotiates accreditation for its app.

Does Uber provide any legal assistance to drivers? Does Uber reimburse drivers who are fined?

And does Uber make clear to all prospective drivers that they may be liable for prosecution?

Uber declined to answer each of these questions.

The Government spokesperson said officials have been “case managing UBER’s application and are continuing to assist them in progressing the application to a point where they meet all the necessary requirements”.

The company spokesperson did reveal, however, that about 1000 South Australian drivers had used Uber’s app to earn an income, servicing around 80,000 customers.

Mullighan added that South Australians expected the Government to enforce the law and protect the safety of passengers.

“We have significantly increased penalties, introducing a new maximum penalty of $15,000 to apply to breaches of the Passenger Transport Act, such as driving vehicles which fail to meet safety standards, unaccredited drivers and unauthorised booking services,” he said.

“Whether it is a taxi, chauffeur vehicle or ride-share service, if the driver is not obeying the law they will be dealt with in the same way.”

United Taxi Association (UTA) president Trimann Gill told InDaily cabs were subject to the Government’s compliance efforts, with screening at taxi ranks and following up customer complaints.

If a complaint is received against a particular taxi or driver, Government compliance officers are able to book that specific cab through the taxi company.

Gill said officers regularly screened cabs, waiting in taxi ranks, for any breaches.

The UTA has this week pleaded with the Government to increase penalties against unaccredited Uber drivers, arguing that demerit points would be a more effective deterrent than fines.

Gill said taxi industry revenues were “15 to 20 per cent down” since last year.

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