Uber passengers to begin paying AU$100m taxi compensation

Taxi and ride-booking passengers in NSW will pay a AU$1 levy on all trips to help fund a compensation scheme for taxi licence holders whose livelihood has been devalued by sharing economy alternatives.

Taxi drivers in New South Wales will now be compensated by ride-booking passengers, after the state government passed legislation Wednesday night that will see paid drivers collect an additional AU$1 from customers.

The AU$1 levy forms part of a compensation scheme for taxi drivers that have been affected by the NSW government's point-to-point transform reform.

The compensation and industry adjustment package is valued at AU$250 million including AU$20,000 up-front payments for licence plate holders with up to two licences, and the creation of a hardship panel to assess further compensation claims.

Of that, AU$150 million will come from government while the remaining AU$100 million will be paid for by the temporary AU$1 levy.

"Nowhere else in the world have we seen such a generous compensation package to assist industry adjustment when it comes to the taxi industry; nowhere else in the world have we made available the capacity for the transport economy to evolve like we're going to see," Transport Minister Andrew Constance told reporters on Thursday.

Just over six months ago, Uber-like services were given the green light in Sydney, with Constance saying regulating such services would create a level playing field for the point to point transport industry in NSW.

"NSW is going to have a new transport economy," Constance said at the time. "People will have more choice, better services, and better value when it comes to the point to point market."

Constance also announced that a regulator and commissioner would be overseeing the industry, with a transition period in place to allow ride-booking drivers to obtain the correct accreditation to drive legally on the state's roads.

The legislation changes that passed the NSW Parliament on Wednesday night were left unamended.

Uber general manager David Rohrsheim said on Thursday he wanted to see transparency in how the compensation was determined to ensure only those who genuinely need compensation receive it.

"If consumers are going to be asked to reach into their pockets and pay an extra levy to fund any hardship in the taxi industry I do hope that there is some transparency over that hardship," he said.

In a further blow to the Sydney taxi industry, Uber drivers began picking passengers up from Sydney Airport's domestic and international terminals in May.

The lucrative airport pick-up had been the sole domain of taxi drivers but passengers can now flag an UberX or UberBlack car through a virtual queue system at each terminal as well as be met by pre-booked drivers at the airport's free public pick-up zones.

GoCatch confirmed its drivers would also be performing rides to and from the airport, after a spokeswoman for Sydney Airport said it was open to allowing other driver services to pick up passengers as well.

In February, taxi app platform GoCatch launched its own ride-booking service, GoCar, to compete directly with Uber.

GoCatch announced the same day as the airport approval that it was cutting its fares by 5 percent, seeing the ride-booking service cost up to 35 percent less than a traditional taxi.

Despite being deemed legal in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia, it has not been smooth sailing for Uber in Queensland.

After launching a campaign to fine Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk for punishing its drivers last month, Uber has launched a new service in the sunshine state this week in direct competition to maxi-cabs.

The California-based startup has emailed its customers to announce the launch of UberXL, which gives access to vehicles seating up to six people, with Uber claiming the service is up to 30 percent cheaper than a maxi-taxi.

In May, 51 Brisbane drivers racked up over AU$120,000 worth of fines during the Labour Day long weekend alone, with transport officers undertaking 78 hours of enforcement activity over the period.

"While the Queensland government welcomes innovation in transport, passenger safety will always remain our number one priority," Queensland's Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said of the operation.

"Our transport inspectors must have the appropriate tools to ensure that they can uphold the current and any future regulations."

The Brisbane blitz came after the state government last month passed new legislation to crack down on Uber drivers, which included increased fines and more powers for traffic enforcement officers.

Under the new legislation, fines have jumped from AU$1,413 to AU$2,356 for drivers, while Uber itself could be fined up to AU$23,560. Uber has previously said that it will operate as normal, and will challenge the fines in court.

After the new laws came into play, 370 infringement notices were issued to Uber drivers, including 331 fines for using a vehicle that was not a taxi, within the space of a month.

A Queensland government taskforce has been set up to review how ride-booking services like Uber are to operate in the state, with the taskforce's chairman, Jim Varghese, confirming the review is also looking at linking taxis to public transport networks to help drivers maintain revenue in the face of the increased competition from Uber.

The taskforce findings are to be completed and released in July, after Palaszczuk indicated in April that she was fed up with waiting for the review.

In launching UberXL, the ride-booking service has been accused of disrespecting the state government as well as the review. Taxi Council Queensland chief executive Benjamin Wash said he is disappointed with Uber's latest move.

"This just demonstrates their lack of respect and the disrespect for process," Wash said.

An Uber spokeswoman said the ridesharing service was involved in the review and while there were hefty penalties for drivers and administrators, they had not altered their operations.

"Obviously we are working with the government and their review ... but at the moment it's business as usual and making sure we provide safe and affordable rides and different options for consumers," she said.

With AAP

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