NSW Deputy Premier downplays dangers of taxi apps

Concerns over taxi booking apps that are not registered with the NSW Taxi Council, like goCatch, will be addressed in the Passenger Transport Legislation Review, according to NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner.

The NSW Taxi Council and Crime Stoppers joined forces last week to launch a consumer awareness campaign against taxi booking apps that are not registered with the taxi council. But NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner is unfazed by those claims and has continued to show his support for app makers.

One such app maker is goCatch, which released an app that connects taxi drivers and passengers directly through a smartphone, where bookings can be made in real time.

The NSW Taxi Council and Crime Stoppers claim that these apps could jeopardise the safety of taxi drivers and passengers because the jobs are not vetted by an approved taxi organisation.

The Deputy Premier, who attended a goCatch event in Sydney today, was unperturbed by allegations around the safety of using unregistered taxi apps. GoCatch was founded on the back of a AU$200,000 grant from the NSW government, and Stoner is extremely supportive of the company's work.

"With any change — revolution — there is always some ruffles that occur," he said. "The fact is, technology changes, and goCatch is innovative and changing the taxi scene."

According to Stoner, all the concerns of the NSW Taxi Council, as well as other stakeholders, will be addressed in the NSW Passenger Transport Legislation Review, including whether the taxi apps industry should be regulated by the government.

"What we want to see, in terms of the taxi industry in NSW, is safety for drivers, safety for passengers, good value, and competitive services," he said. "It is one of the first impressions international visitors get of Sydney, and we want to see improvement in the standards."

GoCatch co-founder Andrew Campbell claims that using goCatch is safer than hailing a taxi on the street, for both drivers and passengers, since the app reduces the possibility of anonymity.

"Today, a driver told me he thinks it's safer to accept goCatch jobs than accepting a radio booking job [through his taxi company]," he said at the goCatch event, which was held for the launch of the app's direct payment capability. "The drivers don't get user information from the radio booking, and can't trace or track it."

"We have location-based data records, and it gives passengers, as well as drivers, confidence they are going to have a safe journey."

Besides safety concerns, taxi companies are undoubtedly displeased that apps like goCatch have cut into their profits. GoCatch aims to put even more pressure on those companies, joining forces with the National Australia Bank and payment gateway provider eWay to facilitate direct fare payments between taxi drivers and passengers through its app.

Campbell said that it's a way to loosen the stranglehold of companies such as payment systems provider Cabcharge on the taxi market.

Should these companies be worried that they are losing their competitive advantage to goCatch, they are welcome to create their own apps, according to Stoner.

"The balls in the court of the other interested parties in the NSW taxi industry," he said. "If they want to be competitive against goCatch, they can put out their own app — that is how the free market works.

"The market will determine the success of goCatch, because passengers and drivers make their own choices."