RideSurfing skirts taxi constraints with donation payments

Sydney-based start-up RideSurfing is taking on Uber and is pushing the boundaries of complying with the NSW Passenger Transport Act through its donation-based payment model.

Uber has already disrupted the global taxi industry, but now there's a new player in the space — RideSurfing, a donation-based car-sharing service.

The Sydney-based start-up is attempting to grow a community of "RideSurfers", people who take rides in people's "SurfMobile" to get around town for free. 

While passengers are no obliged to pay a fee — which potentially frees the company up from complying with the Passenger Transport Act — they are encouraged to give donations, and suggested amounts are automatically generated on the RideSurfing app at the end of the trip based on the time and distance of the ride.

Based on previous warnings by a Transport for NSW spokesperson, if any NSW driver is taking paying passengers, the driver and the vehicle must operate in accordance to the existing Passenger Transport Act, and if they don't they could face prosecution and fines of up to AU$110,000. The Act does exclude cases such as if a group of friends are sharing expenses or have a carpooling arrangement to share a ride to get to a destination.

Co-founder Manutea Dupont told ZDNet the concept of RideSurfing derived from trying to find a more affordable, reliable, and interesting way to get around Sydney.

"If you go from Surry Hills to Bondi, there is no easy or affordable way to do it. We want to create a reliable way and system for people to get around," he said, highlighting the service runs much in the same way as hopping into a neighbour's car to carpool. 

"Our vision is to create a self-sustaining community of people that is going to be able to decide how much they want to donate."

But what if no one pays?

"People can be concerned about it, but not in our case," said Dupont, who admitted that moving from France to Australia a few years back found it personally difficult to get around town.

"It's a very social experience where here somebody welcomes you into their car, and you're the guest, which is a more interesting way to travel than taking a cab or taking public transport. People who have used RideSurfing understand our system and value it."

Dupont said "several hundred" potential drivers have already shown their interests in being part of the RideSurfing community, from ads posted on Gumtree offering drivers up to AU$30 an hour, but notes given that safety is the company's number one priority, and security checks are done.

"We check people's car, comply with relevant laws, and check people for any criminal history, driving history, and check all the paper work including insurance and car service level," he said.

"We also train them. So we'd get into the car with them to use the app, to ensure they have a good sense of direction, and they know how follow a GPS before we can validate that they can join the community."

Uber Sydney has been piloting a similar program known as UberX — which has already been banned in parts of the US and Europe — where it encourages regular members of the public, as well as taxi drivers, to transport paying passengers with their private vehicles.