NT government refusing to allow Uber to operate

The Northern Territory government has announced reforms to the taxi industry, but they do not include making regulatory changes to allow for ridesharing services, such as Uber, to operate.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The ridesharing service Uber won't be allowed to operate in the Northern Territory.

The NT government has announced reforms to the taxi industry but said it "will not be making any regulatory changes authorising point to point ridesharing transport services".

It said it will monitor the "other jurisdictions across Australia where unauthorised ridesharing has been operating".

Transport Minister Peter Chandler said the reforms will benefit passengers and the community, as well as drivers and taxi operators.

The minister also said it is holding Uber as "a sword of Damocles" over the head of taxi operators who don't lift their game.

The NT's taxi industry in particular has been the subject of many complaints, such as an overall lack of taxis, drivers refusing fares for distances that are too short or too far, and excessive card surcharges.

Chandler warned another review on the industry will be held in a year to see how well the taxi industry is shaping up.

"The good thing that technology and Uber have done for the taxi industry is a real wake-up call, because what I've said to them is: 'If you guys lift your standards to such a degree that people will think that calling a taxi ... is fantastic because of the service they offer, companies like Uber probably won't even bother coming into this market'," he said.

"I want to keep the sword of Damocles hanging about that Uber will come to town if their service levels don't improve, because I won't be able to stop it. In fact I would feel compelled to support it."

Chandler said he wasn't opposed to Uber but wanted to allow the local industry time to implement the reforms, while watching the way other jurisdictions legislated Uber.

The decision comes as taxi app platform GoCatch launches its own ridesharing service, GoCar, in Sydney to compete directly with Uber.

GoCatch CEO Ned Moorfield said the launch of GoCar is in response to the reforms the NSW government made to the point to point transport industry at the end of last year, which saw ridesharing services such as Uber recognised as a legal service.

"We've been in this point to point transport market since we launched in 2011 but we've gone about doing that via taxi drivers. But with the changing regulations in Australia, it's serving a whole new path to the market that we have not been able to go into previously, and it's actually a fairly straightforward adoption of the existing platform to roll this out," he said.

GoCar will operate alongside GoCatch's existing taxi-booking service, and similar to Uber will allow users to track when a driver is en-route to their location, and pay the driver via the app by entering and saving their credit card details or linking their PayPal account.

However, Moorfield said there are a few key differentiators between GoCar and Uber, which he believes will give it a competitive advantage, such as a no surge pricing policy and drivers only have to pay the company a 15 percent commission versus Uber's 20 percent commission.

Additionally, Moorfield claimed GoCar will be 20 to 30 percent cheaper than a taxi during off-peak periods and 10 to 15 percent cheaper than a taxi during peak periods.

Moorfield rejected the idea that GoCar would take business away from existing taxi drivers using GoCatch, arguing it will in fact bring in more business for them.

"We know ridesharing is going to attract a lot more passengers onto our platform, and a lot of the work will overflow onto taxi drivers. We think taxi drivers on our platform will broadly be a lot busier and will make more money when they're using GoCatch," he said.

"The other thing is we're absolutely opening this up to taxi drivers to drive their personal vehicles as ridesharing drivers, and around half of our existing sign ups of GoCar drivers are actually current or ex-taxi drivers. The taxi drivers are taking this model up in large numbers."

Uber was also legalised in the ACT last September. The ACT became the first Australian state or territory to class Uber as legal. Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Transport Reform Shane Rattenbury said at the time the taxi industry reform is part of broader reform to public transport, coupled with a belief that it will give customers access to safe, flexible, and affordable ride-sharing services, while also reducing costs for taxi drivers, owners, and passengers.

With AAP

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