​ACT government to legalise Uber in Canberra with regulations

From October 30, 2015, ride-sharing services such as UberX will be able to operate legally but under similar regulatory conditions that taxis and hire cars face.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The ACT government has become Australia's first jurisdiction to legalise ride-sharing, such as UberX, as part of new reforms to take effect from October 30, 2015.

As part of the reforms, which will be rolled out in two stages, authorised ride-sharing and other transport booking services will be able to operate, but under certain regulatory conditions. This will include seeing ride-sharing drivers undergo similar checks taxi drivers go through, such as criminal history and driver history checks. Vehicles will also be checked for safety.

Meanwhile, there will be an immediate reduction in annual licence fees for taxis and hire cars. For taxi licence lease fees, it will be halved in 2016, and halved again in 2017.

Stage two of the reform will involve the introduction of new laws regarding driver accreditation requirements for ride-sharing, and further reduce regulation for taxis and hire cars. Additionally, the government plans to include customised CTP and property insurance regime for ride-share activity.

The Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Transport Reform, Shane Rattenbury, said that the taxi industry reform is part of broader reform to public transport, with belief it will give customers access to safe, flexible, and affordable ride-sharing services, while also reducing costs for taxi drivers, owners, and passengers.

"Public transport is an integral part of any city. These reforms are a win for Canberrans and those travelling to the Territory, improving access to diverse transport options and competitive pricing," he said.

"Taxis and other demand-responsive transport options are important for accessibility and social equity, and are often relied on by those with special transport needs. These reforms do not change the current arrangements -- the wheelchair accessible taxi service booking system and the Taxi Subsidy Scheme are unchanged."

Uber Australia has welcomed the news, announcing that it will be introducing UberX to Canberra, and has called on other state and territory governments to follow suit.

"Chief Minister Barr and the ACT Government have shown true leadership in their progressive approach to bringing a safe, affordable and reliable point-to-point transport alternative to Canberra through their transparent review process and open and constructive dialogue," the company wrote in a blog post.

"The ACT Government has not only answered the demands from thousands of Canberrans for economic opportunities and more reliable and affordable transport, but, through their decision, they have also recognised the rights of all Australians to choose how they move around their cities.

"We applaud their global leadership in embracing ride-sharing and look forward to getting on the road in the nation's capital!"

The news comes a day after the Victorian government prepares to regulate Uber in the state by working on a regulatory regime that addresses passenger safety, driver and vehicle standards, and insurance issues.

On Monday, 40 Uber drivers in New South Wales were issued suspension notices, as the state government continues to crack down on the illegal operation of ride-sharing services.

A NSW Roads and Minister Services spokesperson warned that taxi and hire car services must have authorised and accredited operators, as well as a licensed and insured vehicle, otherwise they could face thousands of dollars in fines.

"If drivers continue to offer illegal ride-sharing services, they will continue to risk registration suspensions and fines," the spokesperson said.

In late August, the NSW government launched the Point to Point Transport Taskforce, which called for changes to be made to current regulatory framework in order to reduce red tape and level the playing field for the taxi industry and other point to point transport services.

Other state governments have also drawn their attention to the ride-sharing industry. The Queensland government said it would be reviewing its taxi strategy later in the year, and has not ruled out the co-existence of taxis and Uber services on the state's roads.

Similarly, in Western Australia, the state's Department of Transport released its still-open green paper in July, which centred on regulating the transport industry and ensuring consumer safety. Minister of Transport Dean Nalder said he hopes the outcome would "simplify this with a single piece of legislation".

Earlier this month, Uber found itself in court with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), arguing during the first directions of Uber B.V v The Commissioner of Taxation of the Commonwealth of Australia that UberX drivers do not fall within the same definition as taxi and limousine drivers, and therefore should be required to pay the Good and Services Tax (GST).

However, Uber's Australia and New Zealand general manager David Rohrsheim believes the ATO has singled out UberX partners for "special treatment".

"Uber drivers are not providing taxi services. Full stop," Rohrsheim told ABC RN Breakfast in mid-August.

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