WA government puts Uber in legal sights

The Western Australia Department of Transport could prosecute up to 24 people for operating unlicensed taxi services in Perth via the Uber ride-share service.

Up to 24 people involved with the Uber ride-sharing service have reportedly been targeted by the Western Australia Department of Transport for operating unlicensed taxi services in Perth.

Speaking on 720 ABC Perth radio today, the WA Department of Transport's general manager of passenger services Aaron De Rozario said that it had issued notices for financial and contractual documents to gather evidence for a potential prosecution of the individuals.

"We believe these vehicles may be operating as taxis outside of the taxi Act, and we are seeking further information so we can determine if an offence has been committed," said De Rozario, according to a report by ABC News. "Our role as a regulator is primarily focused on the safety aspects of the services being provided. For us, the use of private motor vehicles to carry passengers is a concern."

Uber launched in Perth in May, catching the West Australian transport minister Dean Nalder off-guard, with Nalder at the time calling on his department to check that the taxi app was in compliance with the law.

Nalder said that he had a preliminary meeting with the firm about three weeks prior to the launch, but was surprised to hear it launched in Perth on May 20.

"I am a little bit surprised -- we weren't aware that they were [launching] so I've asked the department to investigate that they are complying with the law," Nalder told Fairfax radio on May 22.

Uber first launched in Sydney in 2012, has since expanded to Melbourne and Brisbane, and in August made moves to expand into the Gold Coast, despite a Queensland government-issued cease-and-desist order in May.

In response to this latest potential challenge from the WA Department of Transport, Uber backed its service, saying that it is already in discussions with the WA government in relation to ride-sharing regulations.

"Uber doesn't believe anyone should be fined for providing safe, reliable rides in their city," an Uber spokesperson told ZDNet in a statement. "We are currently in constructive dialogue with the WA government on adopting sensible safety-based ride-sharing regulations. As always, Uber stands by its partners fully."

However, just last week, Uber decided to suspend its operations in New Delhi until it completes a review of its service, following reports that a woman was allegedly raped by an Uber driver in the city on December 5.

The company, which has received fierce scrutiny by lawmakers and taxi industry representatives worldwide, also came under fire on Monday after its automated surge pricing system increased ride fares within the Sydney CBD by up to four times the usual rate during a fatal armed hostage siege in the city's financial district.

However, the company quickly moved to reverse the fare increase and offer free rides out of the Sydney CBD as it went into lockdown during the siege.

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