Uber turns corner, arrives on the Sunshine Coast
DESPITE having been described as "illegal" by the Palaszczuk Government and issued a cease and desist order by the State Government when it launched in Brisbane 18 months ago, ride-sharing company Uber has announced that UberX rides will be available on the Sunshine Coast at noon today.
Uber's controversial ride booking service allows accredited but independently contracted "driver-partners" to ferry passengers in their own cars.
Taxi drivers around the world are fighting against the model Uber has introduced, arguing Uber sidesteps laws, regulations, taxes and fees that registered taxi operators have to comply with while offering a service that is essentially the same.
But Uber says it's not breaking any laws, and fines issued to driver-partners are yet to be tested in an Australian court.
"I'm confident we're not illegal," Uber spokesman Sam Bool said. "We're yet to have any court in any state or territory in Australia find that ride sharing is, in fact, illegal."
He said many Uber driver-partners in Brisbane and the Gold Coast had elected to challenge fines received under Queensland taxi industry regulations. And to date they had not gone to court "let alone be found to be breaking the law".
Mr Bool said the decision to start services on the Sunshine Coast was a "no brainer" as thousands of Coast residents had already downloaded the company's ridesharing app UberX and hundreds of Uber-accredited Coast drivers were already working in Brisbane.
"It's (the Sunshine Coast) one of those places that can be tricky at times to get a taxi and it also has that similar seasonal traveller influx," he said.
Launching in summer, when holidaymakers would be on the Coast, also made sense because tech-savvy travellers were enthusiastic users of the app, he said.
"We also had a lot of drivers sign up to drive on the Sunshine Coast and many of those were doing the commute to Brissie," he said.
As reported in the Daily, Uber has been using Facebook to recruit Sunshine Coast drivers for the past six months.
"The Facebook ads were a good way to get a feel for what the potential driver base would be like," Mr Bool said. "Hundreds have signed up and it's increasing a lot every couple of days."
Should there be a review of the taxi and ride-sharing industry in Queensland?
This poll ended on 29 November 2015.
Yes. The taxi industry is heavily regulated and can't compete with ride-sharing groups that are not.
No. The market is working fine as it is.
I don't care as long as I have choices about how I get around.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
Suncoast Cabs general manager John Lobwein said he had no problem with Uber setting up on the Sunshine Coast if they could prove they were legal operators and committed to delivering the level of safety and reliability that the heavily regulated taxi industry provides Coast residents.
"To be honest, I don't have a lot to say because at the end of the day they're illegal," he said.
Mr Lobwein called on the Queensland Government to ensure the current review of the taxi and ridesharing industry, which is due to report in August next year, did not remove the safeguards in place for local operators to continue operating reliable, safe transport to Sunshine Coast residents.
"We're not scared of Uber," said Mr Lobwein, whose company employs 600 local taxi drivers. "We're scared of an open market that will destroy 600 families. We feed 600 families on the Sunshine Coast.
"Uber have come along and sure, they're popular and cool, but they're a fad.
"We're not about being cool or popular - we're about getting people home safe and on time.
"They're not a long-term solution - when they leave … we're (taxi drivers) going to be stuck picking up the pieces."
He warned the State Government of making "reactive" changes to legislation to accommodate Uber.
Uber believed it could "coexist" with the taxi industry on the Sunshine Coast, Mr Bool said.
"We're not there to decimate any industries," Mr Bool said. "We're there to exist with the existing taxi industries.
"I think we actually grow the 'pie' - when you're 30 to 40% less than a regular taxi, you actually start to change the way people think in terms of, 'will I use fuel (and drive), or take a bus, or use Uber?"