Uber ban causes AU$40m annual loss to Queensland economy: Report

A report by the ABC has revealed that not allowing Uber to operate in the state of Queensland actually reduces competition to the tune of AU$40 million.

A report by the ABC's 7.30 program has unveiled documents by Queensland's Economic Policy Group (EPG) saying that the state's ban on Uber X services has resulted in a AU$40 million loss to the economy due to a lack of competition in the taxi industry.

The ABC's report, broadcast on Thursday night, quoted the EPG documents, which were obtained through Freedom of Information.

"Despite operating outside of the regularity framework, Uber has increased competition in the Queensland taxi market ... providing customers with the ability to choose an alternative to taxis," the documents said.

"Restricting the supply of taxis limits competition and results in higher fares for most users than would be the case in a more open market... This benefits licence holders at the expense of consumers.

"Brisbane consumers were worse off by AU$40 million a year."

Premier of Queensland Annastacia Palaszczuk said in an interview with ABC Radio that while Uber is convenient for consumers, it needs to be regulated alongside the rest of the taxi industry.

"The concern with Uber is that although it is incredibly popular out there -- a lot of young people love it, they love the convenience -- we need to have a level playing field in this state, because it's not fair that people have put their life savings into a licence, we have taxi drivers out there doing the right thing, and now you have a new player onto the field," Palaszczuk said.

The EPG documents also refuted numerous complaints about safety concerns -- which were raised after Uber drivers faced sexual assault charges in India and the United States last year -- claiming that "The safety risks associated with using Uber are potentially minimal."

In both India and the US, Uber subsequently installed increased safety mechanisms for its operations.

Uber has had a cease-and-desist order placed upon its services in Queensland since May 21, 2014. However, this has not stopped the ride-sharing app from continuing its operations in the state.

On Wednesday, Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad suggested that Uber could coexist with traditional taxi services through modernisation of the regulatory framework.

"Other jurisdictions have made a place for Uber without diminishing the importance of the taxi industry that's already established," she pointed out.

However, Queensland Police is continuing its crackdown on Uber drivers, handing out on-the-spot fines that have reportedly totalled AU$1.7 million over the past year after a massive 1,536 infringements.

Uber's regulatory difficulties have extended to other parts of Australia; in Western Australia, the government last year prosecuted 20 Uber drivers for unlawful taxi practices in Perth.

Last week, however, the WA Department of Transport released a green paper discussing regulating ride-sharing services in order to ensure safety and consistent operations across the board.

"We're seeking to deliver an equal playing field that provides a safe and reliable service for passengers and drivers, with increased competition and responsibility for the delivery of a quality service at a fair price," WA Minister for Transport Dean Nalder said.

At the start of this month, the New South Wales government announced the launch of an independent task force to scrutinise the taxi and ride-sharing industries. The task force will consult with the taxi industry, hire car companies, customers, and other stakeholders, and report back by the end of October on sustainability and competition within the market, the current and future regulatory framework, and the safety concerns of using ride-sharing services.

"If we want to see a strong future for the taxi industry and make services more attractive to customers, the next step is to look closely at current regulations to ensure there's a more even playing field," NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said in early July.

According to another ABC report, the NSW government has also been forced to withdraw its legal action against 24 Uber drivers after it failed to provide sufficient evidence.

On a national scale, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) classified the service as taxi travel in May, and mandated that all Uber drivers are to file for an Australian Business Number and register for GST by August 1. Uber said it is considering legal action to appeal the decision.

Uber's legal issues extend worldwide. On Thursday, GMB, one of the UK's largest trade unions, announced that it is taking legal action against Uber, demanding that Uber drivers be provided with the national minimum wage, paid leave, and rest breaks.

Similarly in France, Uber director for Western Europe Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty and director general Thibaud Simphal will face trial in September for its continued illegal services, with the issue coming to a head after violent protests by taxi drivers against the app last month. UberPop was deemed to be illegal in France in January, but has continued operating regardless.

In China, private cars were banned in mid January from using all ride-hailing taxi apps; tens of thousands of dollars in penalties were issued throughout Taiwan as of December; in South Korea, both the state and Seoul city governments have filed criminal suits against Uber; and the São Paulo Mayor's office in Brazil fined several drivers $900 on average for operating taxi services without legal authorisation in August last year.

In India, Uber was threatened with shutdown in October if it did not alter its business model to offer a two-step authentication process for its payment service, and consequently introduced a mobile wallet link-up with Paytm in November.

Uber was also forced to suspend operations in Portland, Oregon, for three months from late December while the city worked on establishing regulatory guidelines for taxi apps.

Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission fined Uber $7.3 million for failing to comply with state requirements in regards to reporting ride statistics by zip code; the origin and destination for each trip; the amount paid; the number of customers who have requested accessible vehicles, and how often Uber could supply this; issues with drivers; and incidents, including any insurance having to be paid by a party other than Uber.

Also this month, Shanghai authorities made the decision to begin increasing fines for drivers and companies operating ride-sharing services, with penalties of up to 10,000 yuan ($1,611) and a three- to six-month suspension of their driving licence.

Despite these legal challenges, Uber saw the value of its Series E round of venture funding rise by $1 billion to $2.2 billion in February, with the round's total capacity reportedly reaching $2.8 billion. The company is now reportedly valued at close to $50 billion.