Will the SA and WA Governments cave in to Uber’s bullying?

Last month the governments of South Australia and West Australia announced that ‘ride-sharing’ would be legalised from 1 July 2016. One would have thought Uber executives would have popped the Champagne, but oh no, they were not happy. The price wasn’t right.

by Peer Lindholdt

There are a few things you need to know about WA and SA before I get to the exciting bits of this story. Firstly, WA has a Liberal government, SA’s is Labor. Secondly, UberX has been operating illegally in Perth for over a year, but not in Adelaide where it only ran Uber Black - all good and legal.

In WA, as in other states where UberX operated illegally, the Government fined a few of the drivers, just to show who was in charge, and like NSW and Victoria, they quickly abandoned enforcing those laws. In fact the WA Liberals were so infatuated with Uber that they made the legalisation of ridesharing part of party policy at their annual state conference last year.

Uber was delighted, so delighted in fact that it offered the party’s policy chairman, Tom White, a job. He is now Uber’s General Manager, not only for WA, but also SA. How good is that?

Not so good. As a staunch Liberal he was not about to make life easy for a Labor government.

In April when SA Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan announced the decision to legalise ridesharing from 1 July, he also announced the conditions under which they would be required to operate, namely the same as for hire cars. That was unacceptable to Mr White. He argued that the regulatory framework that the Government will have in place from July 1 is not viable, claiming the cost to rideshare operators entering the Adelaide market was in excess of $700 more than a private car. He also objected to the level of checks the drivers had to subject to, which include, quite rightly, working-with-children clearance and the requirement that their vehicles must be inspected for roadworthiness every six months. Not acceptable, he said.

When the government refused to budge at a heated meeting on 5 May, Minister Mullighan accused Uber representatives of walking out of the meeting while Tom White said the Government “slammed the door in our faces’’.

For the record, the total fees to register a private car (6cyl) in Adelaide are $731.00. HC and ride-share will cost $1,162. That’s a $431 difference, not the $700 claimed by Uber.

Arrogantly White announced to the media that unless the Government’s met Uber’s demands it would not launch UberX in Adelaide at all. If he thought that would faze the Minister he was wrong. “I’m quite sure there will be other rideshare apps willing to accept our rules”, he said, and the Premier Jay Weatherill weighed in, saying the Government would not “be dictated to by a multinational corporation’’.

In a last ditch effort to bully the Government to cave in to his demands, White announced on 13 May that UberX would be launched after all, but with free rides to the Adelaide public for an indefinite period. It would be embarrassing if any state government gave into what is a typical Uber stunt.

Back in WA White’s approach was totally different. Less rude and aggressive. Under the changes announced by WA Transport Minister Dean Nalder, each Uber driver will have to pay an extra $272 per year for an On-Demand licence from July 1.

Instead of trying to play hardball with the Minister, as he had in Adelaide, he confined himself to complaining in Perth Now that the Barnett Government was “double dipping” as the drivers already pay $300 per year for safety accreditation (F-extension) and that 80 per cent of its drivers had previously said they couldn’t afford to drive for Uber if they had to pay $500 in annual fees. Brings a tear to a glass eye.

This claim motivated a Perth Now reader to write in response: If an Uber driver can’t afford a tax deductible $10 per week in fees then it’s not really a very viable source of income - how will he afford the petrol, tyres, maintenance and vehicle depreciation?”

In this context it is worth mentioning that Uber has consistently claimed the average UberX driver earns around $30 an hour. If that is a fact it seems rather petty and ungrateful to argue against such a minimal charge. Perth taxi operators pay $250 a week for their licence. Evidently Mr White is impossible to please. •

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OZ Cabbie February 2017

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