Uber drivers gear up to be licensed in Perth

Under new transport reforms in Western Australia, drivers for ride-booking service Uber will have to be licensed, while taxi drivers will receive compensation.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor on

New transport reforms on Australia's west coast will result in Uber drivers requiring a special licence before they can legally cruise the streets of Perth.

The Western Australia government has implemented new reforms that will see drivers for ride-booking services such as Uber carrying separate "omnibus" licences, which are expected to cost AU$272.

In Perth, one taxi plate is valued at about AU$220,000 and in an attempt to compensate the WA taxi ecosystem in the wake of the state's new rules, taxi plate owners will receive compensation of AU$20,000 for each plate.

Taxi drivers' fees will be reduced under the reforms; there will be changes to the maximum number of plates an individual can own; and taxi drivers will also have access to "transition-hardship" funds.

According to Transport Minister Dean Nalder, the big winner under the new reforms is the customer, adding that the changes would provide more choice and a safe and reliable service for customers.

"It's also evident customers want more choice and easier access to on-demand services and the current regulations do not accommodate these important customer needs," Nalder said.

"We need to ensure the regulatory environment for on-demand transport is brought into the 21st century."

The new licence required for Uber drivers takes an individual's total cost to get on the road to AU$800, a fee Uber is protesting.

GoCatch CEO Ned Moorfield also feels the omnibus licence is an unnecessary fee for ride-booking drivers.

"While we are pleased to see the WA government ushering in changes to meet the growing demand for more flexible, convenient, and cost-effective transport options, we disagree with the introduction of the costly 'omnibus' licence," he said.

"By adding this unnecessary tax on drivers, the legislation will keep potential drivers out of the market and result in a lower quality service for everyone."

Earlier this year, GoCatch launched its own ride-booking service, GoCar, to compete directly with Uber.

At the time, Moorfield said the launch of GoCar was in direct response to the reforms the New South Wales government made to the point to point transport industry at the end of last year, which saw ridesharing services such as Uber recognised as legal.

In response to the new WA reforms, Moorfield said he wants to see more governments follow the example set in NSW, which he believes allows competition, innovation, and growth to occur without being stifled by "arbitrary fees".

Yesterday, an Uber driver from Melbourne won his appeal against a conviction for operating a commercial passenger vehicle without a licence.

The decision handed down by a Victorian County Court judge on Wednesday effectively legalises the ride-booking app in the state.

Despite the loophole, Victoria still does not know what to do with Uber more than a year after promising a decision on ride-booking services would be handed "soon".

Victoria has been tight-lipped on its Uber policy, since announcing back in September it was preparing to regulate the service amid concerns from the local taxi industry.

The state's Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said on Thursday that figuring out what to do with Uber is taking the Labor government a lot longer than expected.

"I disappointingly can't give you an exact time frame on that because we are needing to do more work and yesterday's court case does add to that work, because it does highlight the complexity of the issue," Allan told 3AW.

An expert panel looked into ride-booking and handed its results to the government in August 2015; however, Allan said the findings were inconclusive.

As a result, a group of Victorian ministers is now charged with the responsibility of working out how to regulate Uber.

"While other states have talked about regulating ridesharing, the three states that are talking in this space -- none of them have passed any legislation," Allan said.

Consumer lawyer associate professor Jeannie Paterson said the court case win might not be as far-reaching as some might expect, but it showed Uber was not going away.

"I think that it does pose a real prompt to the government, to just make a decision about what it's going to do instead of dithering," Paterson said.

The Australian Capital Territory legalised Uber-like services a day after the Victorian government announced it was looking into it, making it the first state or territory to give the service the green light.

At the time, ACT Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Transport Reform Shane Rattenbury said the taxi industry reform was part of broader reform to public transport, with the belief it will give customers access to safe, flexible, and affordable ridesharing services, while also reducing costs for taxi drivers, owners, and passengers.

As of July 1, 2016, Uber-like services will also be allowed to operate in South Australia, with Premier Jay Weatherill confirming in April that changes have been made to the state's taxi and chauffeur vehicle industry to invite healthy competition.

Queensland and the Northern Territory have both banned ride-booking services from operating in their respective states, with 51 Brisbane drivers racking up over AU$120,000 worth of fines during a long weekend earlier this month.

The Brisbane blitz came after the state government last month passed new legislation to crack down on Uber drivers, which included increased fines and more powers for traffic enforcement officers.

With AAP

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