Queensland government legalises Uber in wake of transport regulation overhaul

Following a ban earlier this year, Uber will soon be able to operate legally in Queensland, the sixth state or territory in Australia to legalise the ride-booking serivce.

Ride-booking services such as Uber will now be able to operate legally from September 5, 2016, in Queensland under new transport reforms that were announced by the state government.

Under the changes, which are expected to deliver an estimated net economic benefit of AU$474.1 million, ride-booking services will be made legal under the conditions that drivers hold a valid driver authorisation and have their personalised transport vehicles inspected every 12 months.

Ride-booking vehicles will also be required to be signed and all drivers will hold the same category of driver authorisation known as the Booked Hire Taxi, which will be created. Ride-booking operators will have a grace period until November 1 to comply with new measures.

At the same time, taxis and limousines will also be given a leg up as part of the reforms to help them cope with the increase in competition.

In addition to giving taxis continued exclusive access to rank and hail, the state government will inject AU$100 million as part of an adjustment assistance package that will see AU$60 million via a one-off payment of up to AU$40,000 be given to existing taxi service licence holders and AU$10,000 per licence for existing limousine service licence holders; AU$26.7 million for a hardship fund; AU$4.3 million in waived fees over the next 12 months; AU$5.6 million to incentivise wheelchair-accessible taxis to ensure transport remains accessible for all passengers; and AU$3.75 million for business advisory help.

The changes will also see the annual taxi and limousine renewal fees waived for 12 months; the maximum taxi age limits removed and limousines able to operate beyond age limits; and maximum fares for hire services, except those under the taxi subsidiary scheme and wheelchair services, removed.

A total of 80 regulations will be cut as a result of the reforms.

In addition, the Queensland government will be introducing some new legislative changes as part of stage two of the reforms next year. These will include seeing electronic payment surcharges capped at 5 percent; a new compulsory third-party insurance category will be introduced; and new security camera requirements investigated.

Minister for Transport Stirling Hinchliffe said the changes would put taxi, limousine, and ride-booking services on a more even playing field, while ensure passengers will have more choice and benefit from consistent safety standards, fare estimates, and more affordable travel.

"Emerging technologies are shaping customer expectations in the personalised transport industry which is why we need to transition to a new regulatory framework that will make the entire industry more agile, sustainable and competitive," he said.

The reforms come in response to recommendations made by the independent Opportunities for Personalised Transport Review, something in which Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called for to be carried out back in April, not long after the state imposed a ban on Uber.

In May, Uber launched a campaign urging Queenslanders to "fine" the premier for punishing drivers of the ride-booking service who were facing nearly AU$800,000 in penalties, as a result of driving after the service was deemed illegal in the sunshine state.

This was after 51 Brisbane drivers racked up over AU$120,000 worth of fines during last year's Labour Day long weekend alone, with transport officers undertaking 78 hours of enforcement activity over the period.

The Queensland government's decision to legalise Uber adds to the growing list of state and territories that have done the same.

The ACT was the first Australian state or territory to legalise ridesharing last October. This included the same regulatory conditions that are enforced for taxi drivers, such as driver history checks and vehicle safety checks.

Uber was then deemed to be legal in Western Australia under major taxi industry reform in December, with the proviso that drivers had to obtain special "omnibus" licences in addition to their standard driving licences; while a decision passed by a Victorian County Court judge in favour of a Melbourne Uber driver effectively gave the service the green light to operate in Victoria in May. Shortly after, South Australia followed suit giving Uber the green light.

Uber was also officially legalised in NSW by the state government in December last year, with a new regular and commissioner put in place to oversee the industry. A transition period was also put in place for a number of months for ridesharing drivers to obtain the correct accreditation to drive legally on NSW roads.

The Northern Territory government is, however, still refusing to allow Uber to operate.

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