​Victoria soon to make Uber legal

The Victorian government will introduce draft legislation this year as part of a two-year move to overhaul regulations governing the commercial passenger industry.

The Victorian government has announced that over the next two years it will be overhauling the commercial passenger industry, leading to the establishment of a single registration system for all commercial passenger vehicles including taxis, hire cars, and ride-booking services such as Uber.

The decision by the Victorian government will replace the existing licencing regime, which it believes will mean more flexible fares, drive competition, reduced costs of travel for passengers, and ultimately allow more ride-booking services to hit the road.

To minimise the impact the reforms will have on existing taxi and hire car drivers, the state government will make AU$378 million available to provide "fair and reasonable assistance" to existing licence holders. Another AU$75 million will provide targeted support to industry participants experiencing immediate financial hardship, including AU$25 million to improve access for people with a disability to point-to-point transportation, and also see a dedicated commissioner for disability services appointed to the Taxi Services Commission.

The reforms will also see all commercial passenger vehicle providers be charged a levy of AU$2 a trip, which the Victorian government claims will be used to fund the transition to the new system, including supporting existing licence holders during the transition.

In addition, all drivers including those accredited by the Taxi Services Commission that have passed police, medical, and driving history checks will be subject to ongoing criminal data matching; and the existing knowledge test, which all taxi and hire car drivers are currently required to undertake to ensure they have range of proficiencies, including geographical knowledge, English, and disability awareness, will be abolished.

Meanwhile, rank and hail will remain open to providers that meet "stringent requirements" including vehicles fitted with cameras and fare meters, the state government assured.

The reforms are expected to come into effect over two phases: Draft legislation will be introduced in Parliament this year to remove barriers to entry in the booked market in the short-term, which will facilitate ride-booking services and reduce the hire car licencing fee to zero; before a second piece of legislation will be introduced next year that will set out the framework for the long-term reforms.

Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews said the reforms are in response to new technology that is changing the commercial passenger industry.

"We're levelling the playing field for the whole industry while ensuring consumers have safe and reliable access to transport services," he said.

The Victorian Taxi Association (VTA) said it "broadly" supports the government's decision to reform the industry, however noted it has "serious concerns" for the impact it will have on existing licence holders, in particular challenges associated with the collection of the proposed trip levy and what fairness the AU$378 million funding will deliver.

"The taxi industry is ready to go toe-to-toe with our competitors and we believe this framework provides the opportunity to genuinely compete for the customer and respond to evolving consumer expectations," VTA CEO David Samuel said.

"Overall, we are pleased by the approach taken by the Andrews government to embrace the progressive vision to the future of CPV regulation proposed by the Victorian taxi industry."

The reforms by the Victorian government come after a decision passed in May by a Victorian County Court judge in favour of a Melbourne Uber driver effectively gave the service the green light to operate in Victoria.

Victoria will join the growing list of states legalising Uber. Earlier this month, Queensland announced Uber will be able to operate legally from September 5, 2016 under new transport reforms that were announced by the state government.

Under the changes, which are expected to deliver an estimated net economic benefit of AU$474.1 million, ride-booking services will be made legal under the conditions that drivers hold a valid driver authorisation and have their personalised transport vehicles inspected every 12 months.

The decision by the Queensland government was in response to recommendations made by the independent Opportunities for Personalised Transport Review, something which Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called for back in April, not long after the state imposed a ban on Uber.

The ACT was the first Australian state or territory to legalise ridesharing last October. This included the same regulatory conditions that are enforced for taxi drivers, such as driver history checks and vehicle safety checks.

Uber was then deemed to be legal in Western Australia under major taxi industry reform in December, with the proviso that drivers had to obtain special "omnibus" licences in addition to their standard driving licences. South Australia followed suit giving Uber the green light in April.

Uber was also officially legalised in NSW by the state government in December last year, with a new regular and commissioner put in place to oversee the industry. A transition period was also put in place for a number of months for ridesharing drivers to obtain the correct accreditation to drive legally on NSW roads.

The Northern Territory government is, however, still refusing to allow Uber to operate.