The Uber ride-sharing service has hit back at claims from the Government of South Australia that the newly-launched service is acting illegally.
The Uber platform allows for ordinary drivers to use their own vehicles as a type of taxi, connecting with users through a mobile phone app. The service is often more affordable than a conventional cab service.
An Uber operator must be a licenced driver and over 24 years of age, using a vehicle with at least four doors built after 2005 and covered by comprehensive insurance.
This week, South Australian state treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said in an ABC Radio interview that the platform is unsafe, illegal, and that drivers offering a ride under the Uber service could expect to be fined.
"It's a very dangerous option to take an Uber service - you don't know who's driving the car. You don't know if the car has been checked and, most importantly, we can't know when you got into that car and where you got out of that car, or where you were meant to go."
Uber responded through its website this week, stating that the service is partnered exclusively with registered operators who comply with existing state legislation for hire car services.
“We find it odd that the [SA] Government would suggest that service providers currently accredited by [them] might be unsafe, and disappointing that he wouldn’t want them to embrace technology to grow their business,” Uber said.
Passengers can access a photograph of their driver along with name, contact details and vehicle registration. They can also ‘share’ their journey in real time via social media, and can request a receipt showing pick-up and drop-off points.
The company also highlighted concerns over Mr Koutsantonis’ credentials as a spokesman on transport issues, saying the Treasurer resigned as the state's Roads Minister after it was revealed he had committed 58 traffic offences and had his licence suspended.
Depending on the regulations of the state of residence, an operator may be required to apply for ‘hire car’ registration as well, ensuring their vehicle meets the state’s hire car requirements.
Hire car regulations are far less strict (and cheaper) than those for taxi operators; a hire car doesn’t require internal security cameras or a fare calculator, for example.
It is an offence in most states for hire car drivers to ‘act’ like taxi drivers. The rules in New South Wales state a hire car driver must not “tout or solicit for passengers or for a hiring” and must not “ply, stand or park the vehicle for hire on any road (all hiring must be pre-booked)”.
This last regulation is the ‘grey area’ currently surrounding Uber operators, and may explain why state governments are keen to crack down on the service.
Uber launched in the US in 2009, and is now available in over 70 cities around the world. The platform hit Australia early in 2013, launching initially in Melbourne and Sydney.
Adelaide joined the ranks last week, with captains Nathan van Berlo and Travis Boak from the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide Power ALF teams sharing the first ride.