The NSW government confirmed this week it will continue to fine UberX drivers, with Transport Minister Andrew Constance saying he is close to announcing a new process for regulating the state’s taxi industry.
“We have a disruptive technology which is having an impact, and I am wanting to find the right regulatory framework which puts taxis in particular on a level playing field,” Mr Constance told reporters this week.
The minister, appointed since the March election, used an interview with Fairfax Media to indicate his focus was on reducing the costs of running a taxi, and that he would continue to decline meetings with Uber, whose controversial UberX platform has been operating in Sydney for over a year.
The minister has indicated he would only meet with the ‘ride-sharing’ company after a new path for regulation of the industry was in place.
“I will get to a point where I’m willing to consult with all parties but at the moment I just need to make sure that we’ve got a process in train,” Mr Constance said.
The state government’s pricing body, the Independent, Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART), has called for a regulatory framework that could oversee all forms of point-to-point transport such as taxis and ride-sharing services.
Mr Constance said drivers using the UberX booking platform would continue to be pursued through the courts because they were in breach of the Passenger Transport Act, which allows only accredited taxi and hire car operators to take bookings.
“From my perspective you have a group of people who are obviously dismissive of the Passenger Transport Act, you’ve got another group of people who … are very regulated,” Mr Constance said. “Everyone’s saying we want a level playing field.”
Drivers who use their own cars with UberX avoid paying tens of thousands of dollars in costs incurred by traditional taxi drivers.
According to a recent IPART study, a taxi operator in NSW in 2014 would have paid over $27,000 to hire licence plates, $11,000 in insurance, up to $9,000 in vehicle lease costs, and over $7,000 in network fees.
Roy Wakelin-King, CEO of the NSW Taxi Council, the peak body that represents the state’s industry, said he would “welcome a process that has a proper look at the regulatory framework for the taxi industry”.
“There is a strong prevailing sense of injustice in our industry, where people who do the right thing and comply with the law are observing others apparently getting away with it,” Mr Wakelin-King said.
“And where that costs money and has financial impacts on owners, operators and drivers, that sense of injustice is very strong.”
Victoria’s taxi industry regulator, the Taxi Services Commission, has a similar approach to NSW and has taken UberX drivers to court for not abiding by Victorian taxi regulations. The Victorian government has appointed a subcommittee to explore ways that illegal ride-sharing can be integrated into the regulated environment.