Former ACCC chairman appointed to Uber advisory board

Uber has appointed former ACCC chairman Allan Fels to its Public Policy Advisory Board, formed to guide the startup through global transportation and policy issues.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Journalist on

Former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Allan Fels has joined Uber's Public Policy Advisory Board, tasked with helping the controversial startup navigate through the challenges that come with global expansion.

According to Uber, the advisory board will meet in San Francisco and engage in "vibrant discussions" about every aspect of Uber's business and the unique challenges and opportunities the company faces around the world.

Joining Fels on Uber's board is former prime minister of Peru, Roberto Daniño; former US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood; Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud; Adil Zainulbhai, chairman of the Quality Council of India; Dr Gesner Oliveira, former president of the Brazilian Administrative Council for Economic Defense; former vice president of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes; and Melody Barnes, who was previously the director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House.

"As ridesharing continues to grow, we look forward to the board's candid advice and insights. Of course, Uber has a reputation for getting straight to the point -- sometimes a little too quickly -- and we want their feedback to be equally direct," David Plouffe, Uber chief advisor & member of the board of directors, said in a statement.

"Just a few years ago only one place -- California -- had a regulatory framework for ridesharing. Today more than 70 jurisdictions in the US do, and many other places around the globe are following suit, including in Australia, Canada, India, the Philippines, and Mexico."

In a further blow to the Sydney taxi industry, Uber drivers are now allowed to pick passengers up from Sydney Airport's domestic and international terminals.

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.

The lucrative airport pick-up had been the sole domain of taxi drivers but Sydney Airport said last month it was considering new arrangements including a potential dedicated pick-up zone.

"In response to the huge demand for UberX at Sydney Airport, we have opened functionality in the app for driver-partners to pick up riders from the airport," Uber said in a statement.

The controversial ride-booking service also said it would continue to work with the airport on finalising signage and designated pick-up zones.

Currently, Uber drivers avoid paying the airport access fee paid by taxis and other hire cars by collecting passengers from the airport's public pick-up zone.

Cars can wait there for up to 10-15 minutes, with Uber encouraging drivers to circle around the block if they outstay the limit.

Sydney Airport said it was open to Uber as well as other driver services, with a spokeswoman confirming it would be consulting with its partners regarding the new arrangements.

"[We are] currently developing new arrangements to accommodate all booked service operators at the airport, including ridesharing services such as Uber, as well as limousines and pre-booked taxis," the spokeswoman said Thursday.

The move has outraged the NSW Taxi Council and taxi drivers who rely on lucrative airport fares and have to pay an access fee.

"The instructions given to Uber drivers will clog car parks, increase traffic congestion, and impact on the amenity of local residents and businesses," NSW Taxi Council chief executive Roy Wakelin-King said.

"It is beyond us as to how Uber can unilaterally announce that it has established waiting areas on land which it appears they have no consent to use."

Wakelin-King said the Taxi Council had no issue with point-to-point transport providers but it wanted "sustainable and responsible arrangements" at the airport that Uber could not "thumb their nose at".

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

On Thursday, GoCatch announced it was cutting its fares by 5 percent, seeing the ride-booking service cost up to 35 percent less than a traditional taxi, and also confirmed that its drivers were also performing rides to and from Sydney Airport.

With specific conditions in place, ride-booking services were given the green light in December to operate on New South Wales roads.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said at the time the new reforms were not all bad news for taxi drivers, and that taxis would continue to have exclusive access to rank and hail jobs.

Similar arrangements were put in place in the Australian Capital Territory last October, when the nation's capital was the first jurisdiction to allow the operation of Uber-like services.

As with NSW, the ACT put certain regulatory conditions on Uber drivers, such as the requirement for them to undergo similar safety procedures as taxi drivers go through, such as criminal history and driver history checks. Vehicles are also checked for safety.

The South Australian government announced in March that as of July 1, ride-booking services would be free to cruise the state's streets. However, Uber has allegedly threatened to abandon its expansion plans, and said it was financially unviable to expand into Adelaide as it would cost too much and take too long for drivers to actually get on the road.

"It appears that South Australians would have to pay more than AU$700 in unnecessary fees and wait months before they could start sharing rides," Uber's Tom White said.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said Uber had got its figures wrong and the threat from the company was merely a ploy to get the government to lower its regulatory standards.

"Our costs and arrangements are comparable with other states and territories ... Our numbers show that if there is a difference, it's in the order of AU$100 per annum between the ACT and SA," Weatherill told 5AA on Thursday.

He also said Uber's expansion was still on the cards when the government met with company representatives on Wednesday.

"It's just a company that wants to work over a government and have it reduce its standards before it comes in. This is what taxis have to put up with. Why should Uber be any different?" Weatherill said.

With AAP


Uber Eats to launch a fully autonomous delivery experience (in one major market)

Uber Eats to launch a fully autonomous delivery experience (in one major market)

Autonomous Vehicles
Thoughtworks to develop Australia's electronic birth certificate

Thoughtworks to develop Australia's electronic birth certificate

SoftBank Vision Fund posts ¥3.5 trillion loss for last fiscal year

SoftBank Vision Fund posts ¥3.5 trillion loss for last fiscal year