Uber is coming to Canberra. Will you use it?

Kim Fischer 19 April 2016 41

stock-uber-car-driving

If you are a regular taxi user, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Uber, the upstart company that is threatening taxi industries all over the world.

Already operating in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, Uber hopes to start operating in Canberra by October, with 1000 people already expressing interest in becoming drivers.

Uber works by providing two smartphone apps: one for riders and one for drivers. Riders request a ride, and drivers indicate their availability to provide a ride. Uber provides three options: UberBlack, a luxury hire care service; UberTaxi, a request for a licensed cab; and UberX, to request a “regular” car.

It is UberX that has caused the most consternation among the taxi industry and some pundits, since these cars are operated by “ordinary” people. Uber has always maintained that it is not a taxi service, but an “on-demand ride sharing” service.

Despite most governments declaring UberX to be illegal as it was launched, Uber has simply paid the fines and blocked the mobile phones of undercover government investigators attempting to bust these “unregistered” drivers.

There is a legitimate case for concern about UberX. As Andrew Leigh, Member for Fraser wrote:

The regulatory issues surrounding Uber are varied and complex. They include the need to ensure public safety both for those in the car and on surrounding public streets, and the lack of transparency about the company’s pricing model and relationship with its drivers. Then there’s the question of insurance for mixed private and commercial use of a car, and the challenge of ensuring that drivers pay tax on what they earn.

Despite this, Uber’s aggressive tactics seem to be working. Attempts to prosecute UberX drivers in the courts are mostly failing. The WA, NSW, and ACT governments are conducting reviews into the taxi industry. Uber itself has indicated that it wants to operate under a regulated model.

None of Uber’s tactics would matter if the service offered wasn’t one that people wanted, but given that more than 11 per cent of Sydney residents used UberX or another ride-sharing service in 2014, including politicians, demand doesn’t appear to be an issue.

The question seems to be when, not if, UberX will be allowed to operate legally in Australia. What are the concerns that should be addressed? UnionsACT have submitted that Uber drivers should be considered employees and not contractors:

Although Uber refers to drivers as “independent contractors”, Uber drivers have few or none of the characteristics of a genuine independent contractor. A more appropriate term to refer to Uber drivers’ and other “on demand” workers’ form of employment is “on-hire employment services” where workers are covered by their employing company and work in a host organisation or on specific tasks.

A Californian court recently agreed with this point of view, finding that UberX drivers were employees of the company. This was, in part, because “Uber controls the tools driver use, monitors their approval ratings and terminates their access to the system if their ratings fall below 4.6 stars”.

Not that the taxi industry is a haven of happy drivers either. UnionsACT noted in their same submission that:

The taxi industry for decades has grossly exploited drivers. In 2011 the average hourly rate for a taxi driver was approximately $10 per hour, far below the minimum wage. Reports into the industry found it was rife with poor working conditions, unacceptable risks to safety and low levels of remuneration.

It’s important for governments to protect workers against exploitation, but much like technology has massively changed the way we consume music and videos, it’s very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle. There aren’t easy solutions here. And if the taxi industry thinks it has problems now, just wait until driverless cars become common – possibly as little as 10 years away.

Will you use UberX when it launches in Canberra in October?

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41 Responses to Uber is coming to Canberra. Will you use it?
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dungfungus dungfungus 10:26 am 30 Oct 15

CaptainSensible said :

I vote we have a dedicated bus service – maybe only a few buses (5?) would be needed – all travelling in 1 hour loops around different parts of Canberra but all servicing the airport. If I knew I was at most 1 hour away from the airport I’d be taking a bus instead of spending $60+ on a stinky old taxi. Just a thought.

In the 1980s there was a dedicated ACTION bus service doing the city via London Circuit on continuous loops. I think it may have been free but it wasn’t a success (always appeared empty).
There was a “heritage” type bus operating in the city at some stage – I don’t know of its fate.
Using dedicated buses to the airport sounds good but it doesn’t suit most international travellers who have to load/unload large suitcases and first you have to trudge to a bus-stop.
A tram service would offer nothing more either although both would be cheaper than a taxi or “ride-share”.
Unless one has friends to drop off/pick-up I am afraid a taxi is the only alternative and some of the Uber cars seem too small to accommodate 2 passengers and 4 suitcases. Indeed, some of the existing taxis are already too small so to be sure, I use the Silver Service cabs which are larger models but also more expensive.

CaptainSensible CaptainSensible 8:15 am 30 Oct 15

I vote we have a dedicated bus service – maybe only a few buses (5?) would be needed – all travelling in 1 hour loops around different parts of Canberra but all servicing the airport. If I knew I was at most 1 hour away from the airport I’d be taking a bus instead of spending $60+ on a stinky old taxi. Just a thought.

dungfungus dungfungus 10:57 pm 29 Oct 15

batmantrilogy said :

Uber is cheaper than any normal taxi rates, much better condition of the taxi and more over shows up on time than other taxi services in the area as per a survey !

Most Uber taxi operators will be happy twice in their new venture – the day they start the business and the day they sell/walk away from the business.
Using any vehicle to produce income means that if the wheels or propellers aren’t turning no money is being generated but the fixed costs are still being charged.
All cars are pristine the first day they operate but their condition rapidly deteriorates commensurate with the use. If they stay in good condition it means the operator isn’t making enough money to stay viable. Why do you think taxis are run around the clock?
Another latent problem is that the value of the car being used drops dramatically as, when sale or trade-in time comes declarations have to be made as whether the vehicle was being used as a taxi, hire car or now, a ride-sharing vehicle and it is valued accordingly.
And the competition will be fierce as existing taxis will not disappear overnight.

batmantrilogy batmantrilogy 7:16 pm 29 Oct 15

Uber is cheaper than any normal taxi rates, much better condition of the taxi and more over shows up on time than other taxi services in the area as per a survey !

Skyring Skyring 8:58 am 12 Oct 15

HenryBG said :

dungfungus said :

I would rather trust a professional taxi driver than a part-time Uber enthusiast with apps.

Come on….how many Taxi drivers have you had that weren’t recent immigrants to Australia with poor english skills, not much knowledge of Canberra routes, with sufficient customer service skills to know actually get out of their car to load/unload bags? Not many, I’m sure.
(A cab two weeks ago went so far as to drive off with my suitcase still in his boot.)

I’ve used Uber – these “Enthusiasts” know what they are doing, they use a GPS so they are transparent about the route they are taking, they are friendly, and the ones I copped were locals who knew where they were and could actually speak Australian.

From what I can see, prospective UberX drivers and cabbies are much the same people. I’m hoping the rating system will work to remove the less capable from the system. Let’s face it, we’ve all had cabbies who went the long way, had a smelly or noisy cab, or screwed up in some fashion. The taxi industry tries to pretend that their drivers are professional and courteous. Some are, but by no means all. It is extremely difficult to make an effective complaint against a taxidriver; I’m hoping the inbuilt rating system will do this automatically, because poor driver performance will be marked by a corresponding string of poor ratings.

One or two bad ratings might be just passengers not having a good day, but when there’s a regular pattern from many passengers, the finger of doom should point ever more firmly towards the driver.

zllauh zllauh 8:36 pm 27 Sep 15

hopefully it will be better than those taxi drivers who just won’t show up at time or rather not at all :/

rosscoact rosscoact 6:12 am 25 Sep 15

Goodness, here’s some actual Sydney based research by Choice. It appears that the wisdom of the crowd is correct.

What we found

– UberX was cheaper than a taxi around nine times out of 10. Taxis were 40% more expensive than UberX on average.
– On the three occasions UberX was more expensive, it wasn’t by much – and it was only when surge pricing was in place.
– Of the 28 UberX rides, we encountered surge pricing four times.
– Taxis showed up quicker on average. This, however, was due to the convenience of hailing one off the street; when taxis were booked they tended to take longer to show up than UberX. There were also two times taxis didn’t show up at all, pointing to an issue with reliability.
– On one occasion out of 28, there was no UberX available (the rider caught the next cheapest available option, UberTaxi).
– Taxis scored an average of 6.7 for the overall experience while Uber scored an average of 8.3.

gazket gazket 4:52 pm 06 Sep 15

“A Californian court recently agreed with this point of view, finding that UberX drivers were employees of the company”

I think that would be the case here as well.
Does the 80% work rule apply to Uber , Do they pay super, do Uber pay payroll tax ? Wil Uber push up the price of the no fault lifetime care and support rego levy?

The governments are scared because they have created the can of worms and don’t want it opened.

HenryBG HenryBG 7:25 am 05 Sep 15

dungfungus said :

I agree that it hurts to pay $65 each way from Tuggers to the airport but it is a fair distance.

I’ve been complaining about how much I pay getting to and from the airport in Canberra, so I did a comparison:
Townsville CBD to TSV airport –> 5.3km = $21
CBR Airport to Tuggers –> 23km = $65

Maybe it’s not so bad.
Could be worse, we could be in Melbourne, the only place where I’ve had my credit card skimmed by a Taxi driver……which brings me to….

dungfungus said :

I would rather trust a professional taxi driver than a part-time Uber enthusiast with apps.

Come on….how many Taxi drivers have you had that weren’t recent immigrants to Australia with poor english skills, not much knowledge of Canberra routes, with sufficient customer service skills to know actually get out of their car to load/unload bags? Not many, I’m sure.
(A cab two weeks ago went so far as to drive off with my suitcase still in his boot.)

I’ve used Uber – these “Enthusiasts” know what they are doing, they use a GPS so they are transparent about the route they are taking, they are friendly, and the ones I copped were locals who knew where they were and could actually speak Australian.

arescarti42 arescarti42 2:23 pm 04 Sep 15

Masquara said :

User’s plan is of course to put taxis out of business and then jack up prices to taxi level .. without the service guarantees etc.

Wouldn’t work.

Unlike the taxi industry which runs as a government sanctioned monopoly, there’s nothing stopping someone from starting up a similar service to Uber and competing with them.

In fact this is exactly what has happened with competing services such as Lyft, Sidecar and Haxi.

Funky1 Funky1 11:58 am 04 Sep 15

I too think that Uber have many questions to answer before I feel comfortable using them.

Insurance is the biggy for me, although I did hear that the NRMA were looking at providing appropriate cover to suit most Uber drivers. I just wonder how many will actually take out the cover.

So many other questions and doubts: Where does the money go and does anyone pay tax on it? Why is Uber so secretive about giving out information, even to some of it’s potential drivers? How long until they start making “political donations” to sway the pollies into supporting their push to become 100% legal?

If anything, this should be a wake-up call for the taxi industry. Make changes for the better and join the 21st century or be left behind. Be pro-active and not just re-active.

Evilomlap Evilomlap 10:34 am 04 Sep 15

For the most part I’ve found Canberra taxis just fine. But perspective helps. Catching a taxi in Cairo makes our guys seem like professional chauffeurs. My Egyptian friend stopped the car without even attempting to pull to the side of the road and got out without uttering a word of explanation. After a few minutes I went looking for him and found him sitting in a cafe with a bunch of guys, smoking from a hookah and sipping tea. He had actually forgotten he had a passenger in the car!

In Canberra though there was of course the older taxi driver who spent the 10 minutes or so down Northbourne complaining about all the ‘abos’ and ‘druggies’ who populate the Northbourne flats. There was also the guy whose ageing taxi starting sputtering and shaking violently while idling at a set of lights, prompting me to remark that it might be in need of a service, to which he replied, “nah, that’s normal, it always does that.”

Ghettosmurf87 Ghettosmurf87 10:25 am 04 Sep 15

dungfungus said :

I would rather trust a professional taxi driver than a part-time Uber enthusiast with apps.

They are “professional” in the sense that they get paid to do the job. They are not professional in the sense that they have additional training or knowledge of roads and directions within the ACT. I have been in a lot of cabs in Canberra. There are a few cabbies who have clearly been in Canberra for years, actually know the city and don’t drive like their licence came out of a cereal box.

Unfortunately, a vast majority of cabbies I have encountered are poor going towards dangerous drivers, with very little knowledge of this city that they transport people around. I would far rather hop in a car with an enthusiastic local who knows the city than with most Canberra cabbies.

Just because someone uses apps and is therefore not out of touch with modern society, it doesn’t make them a liability. But keep on being worried about all those young whippersnappers out there Dungers!

VYBerlinaV8_is_back VYBerlinaV8_is_back 10:08 am 04 Sep 15

Acton said :

I was always happy using Canberra taxis until a recent experience. The day before an international flight I called and booked a taxi to collect me at 4:30pm the next day to meet a 6pm departure from the airport. By 4:50 no taxi had arrived.
I called the taxi reservation number and was told that making a booking is no guarantee that a taxi will be there at that time and the booked taxi is currently on another job. When I said I had booked 24 hours ago and had to meet an international flight with a family and luggage and this is a busy time at the airport, the same line was repeated. The taxi turned up just after 5pm and with a shrug of his shoulders the driver said, ‘well you can still make it for your flight’.
This is why we need competition. This is why I will try Uber if it starts up here.
I’m sure others also have unhappy taxi experiences to relate.

I’ve booked taxis in the past and always had trouble. Taxis in Canberra are generally more trouble then they’re worth. Roll on Uber!

dungfungus dungfungus 10:02 am 04 Sep 15

Acton said :

I was always happy using Canberra taxis until a recent experience. The day before an international flight I called and booked a taxi to collect me at 4:30pm the next day to meet a 6pm departure from the airport. By 4:50 no taxi had arrived.
I called the taxi reservation number and was told that making a booking is no guarantee that a taxi will be there at that time and the booked taxi is currently on another job. When I said I had booked 24 hours ago and had to meet an international flight with a family and luggage and this is a busy time at the airport, the same line was repeated. The taxi turned up just after 5pm and with a shrug of his shoulders the driver said, ‘well you can still make it for your flight’.
This is why we need competition. This is why I will try Uber if it starts up here.
I’m sure others also have unhappy taxi experiences to relate.

I would rather trust a professional taxi driver than a part-time Uber enthusiast with apps.

Acton Acton 7:44 am 04 Sep 15

I was always happy using Canberra taxis until a recent experience. The day before an international flight I called and booked a taxi to collect me at 4:30pm the next day to meet a 6pm departure from the airport. By 4:50 no taxi had arrived.
I called the taxi reservation number and was told that making a booking is no guarantee that a taxi will be there at that time and the booked taxi is currently on another job. When I said I had booked 24 hours ago and had to meet an international flight with a family and luggage and this is a busy time at the airport, the same line was repeated. The taxi turned up just after 5pm and with a shrug of his shoulders the driver said, ‘well you can still make it for your flight’.
This is why we need competition. This is why I will try Uber if it starts up here.
I’m sure others also have unhappy taxi experiences to relate.

Masquara Masquara 11:50 pm 03 Sep 15

User’s plan is of course to put taxis out of business and then jack up prices to taxi level .. without the service guarantees etc.

Hosinator Hosinator 10:23 pm 03 Sep 15

chimeralaw said :

I have been trying to get information about the relationship between Uber and the driver but it is very difficult to get. For one thing, Uber will not respond to those questions on their social media presences. Uber is a legit business so why the secrecy? I once asked one of the drivers (in England) and he really had not thought about it or at least he said so. I believe the drivers are in some sort of contractual agreement but I don’t know if it is a franchise or anything similar. Uber might or might not be vicariously liable for anything that the driver does. It is a serious minefield that needs some regulation. Generally, any for profit adventure needs liability insurance to cover its actions so I would like to know the stance here. Who pays the GST if the driver earns more than $75k? Whose insurance covers any negligence action? You can bet your bottom dollar that the insurance the owner of the vehicle has will not cover any claim if the insurer is not aware that the insured is an Uber driver. That means the driver could be in serious debt for the rest of his life in an accident. Not good enough in my opinion. AirBnB is in the same boat. Customers need to be protected.

Uber claims to be a technology company first and foremost, they are in the business of connecting drivers and people via an app. Essentially allowing people to rideshare, thus stating that they do not employee any drivers.
Drivers are meant to have their own insurances. However, these conditions are being challenged in the courts in a number of countries.

Caveat emptor, legislation does not solve every issue. If you worried about using Uber, then don’t. If you do use it, take responsibility and weigh up the risks. We don’t need the nanny state to be riding shotgun on everything we do.

chimeralaw chimeralaw 3:00 pm 03 Sep 15

I have been trying to get information about the relationship between Uber and the driver but it is very difficult to get. For one thing, Uber will not respond to those questions on their social media presences. Uber is a legit business so why the secrecy? I once asked one of the drivers (in England) and he really had not thought about it or at least he said so. I believe the drivers are in some sort of contractual agreement but I don’t know if it is a franchise or anything similar. Uber might or might not be vicariously liable for anything that the driver does. It is a serious minefield that needs some regulation. Generally, any for profit adventure needs liability insurance to cover its actions so I would like to know the stance here. Who pays the GST if the driver earns more than $75k? Whose insurance covers any negligence action? You can bet your bottom dollar that the insurance the owner of the vehicle has will not cover any claim if the insurer is not aware that the insured is an Uber driver. That means the driver could be in serious debt for the rest of his life in an accident. Not good enough in my opinion. AirBnB is in the same boat. Customers need to be protected.

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 2:26 pm 03 Sep 15

It is interesting that the event organised in Melbourne recently by the Border Farce claims to have been planned to tackle illegal visa holders being exploited by the taxi industry. Rather like Seven11.

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