Popular ride-sharing service Uber has been declared legal in New South Wales, with the state Government announcing reforms to the taxi and hire car industry that grant non-traditional point-to-point transport services like Uber legal status.
The new laws came into effect today, putting traditional taxis and ride-sharing services "on a more even playing field".
Uber drivers will be subject to safety and security checks - conditions which are already required by Uber under their terms of service for drivers.
Taxis will also continue to have exclusive access to taxi ranks, which will remain off-limits to ride-share operators.
However, in recognition of the dramatic changes to the hire car landscape the new laws bring, the NSW Government also announced that a $250 million compensation package will be available for existing taxi license holders.
The compensation package will be funded by a $1 levy on all Uber fares collected in NSW over the next five years, and will provide license holders up to $20,000 per plate for a maximum of two plates.
A hire car buy-back scheme will also be in place to assist taxi operators wanting to exit the industry.
The NSW Government also announced that more than 50 taxi and hire car regulations are to be repealed, generating around $30 million in savings across the industry thanks to reduced red tape.
But despite the reduction in regulatory measures, the taxi industry will be under closer scrutiny.
In a second phase of reforms, NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance will introduce legislation to establish a new stand-alone regulator and Commissioner, who will "crack down on customer safety and ensure the industry is abiding by the rules".
The Commissioner's power will be extensive, and include the ability to "name and shame" non-compliant companies, seek court-imposed fines and even seek jail terms for those who don't follow the law.
“For the first time the buck will stop with the company making profit from the services – not just the driver," Constance said.
“By taking regulatory and cost pressure off the industry and unlocking more point to point services, we expect to create hundreds of new jobs over the next few years.”
This second phase is expected to commence in the new year, after the NSW Parliament resumes.
“By taking regulatory and cost pressure off the industry and unlocking more point to point services, we expect to create hundreds of new jobs over the next few years," Constance concluded.
Western Australia To Follow Suit, But Victoria In "No Rush"
The Western Australian Government is also planning to grant ride-sharing services legal status, though Uber drivers will be required to be licensed, pay an annual fee, pass a medical test and get police clearances in order to operate in that state.
Under new laws, Uber drivers in WA will need to hold the same license as regular taxi drivers, while the costs of licensing will be dropped and Taxi plate restrictions will be eased to help existing Taxi operators to compete.
Full details of WA's plans for its taxi industry have yet to be revealed.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Government isn't in a hurry to legalise ride-sharing.
Victorian Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said in a statement that it the state government would "not rush its decision" on how best to deal with the rising popularity of services like Uber - despite their present non-legal status.
The Australian Capital Territory was the first in Australia to regulate ride-sharing services, with laws coming into effect from last month.