Queensland caves into Uber. Only Victoria to go and its conquest of Australia is complete

Proud to be an Australian? Think Nauru and Manus Island concentration camps, think Don Dale prison in the NT, think the destruction of the Barrier Reef, the approval of the Carmichael Coal Mine, of blanket fracking, think of George Pell and his band of paedophiles, of rampant domestic violence and the growing vilification of minorities – Muslims, refugees, aborigines and ‘queers’ (LGBTI) and surely your national pride is being tested. To top it off we have a multi-billion dollar foreign corporate terrorist dictating the terms and conditions to our state governments on how they must regulate their P2P passenger transport industry, a f****** law breaking, tax cheating foreign corporation virtually writing its own laws. Not only have our two main political parties lost their moral compass; they have lost their marbles.

by Peer Lindholdt

When Uber launched UberX in 2014 it became clear very early in the piece that the conservative led states were hell-bent on legalising the concept as soon as they could. Barely had UberX launched in Perth before it was endorsed at the WA Liberal Party State Conference. Neoliberal crony capitalism fans had a new hero in the form of Uber, the recalcitrant $US60 billion Silicone Valley technology juggernaut. First the ACT caved in, followed in quick succession by NSW, Tasmania, WA and inexplicably Labor-led South Australia, each and every one of them legislating largely according to Uber’s directives. Only in Queensland and Victoria did the taxi industry ‘rank and file’ still have hope their governments would stand up to the Uber insurgency and put the thousands of tiny businesses and their workers, already bleeding from the grossly unfair and illegal competition, first. After all, isn’t that what Labor stands for? Well, evidently not!

On 11 August the Queensland Government announced that ridesharing would be legal from 5 September. Its formula is virtually a ‘copy and paste’ of the one introduced in NSW last December and followed by other states, which leads to only one conclusion: the decision to legalise ridesharing and how, was taken by COAG more that a year ago in a unanimous bipartisan agreement and that the so-called independent reviews instigated by individual state governments were all smoke and mirrors.

We should have seen it coming when the original Katter Bill was amended by Queensland Parliament to deliberately exclude demerit points for driving UberX, the one provision in the bill that would have had some impact. Instead the government doubled the fines and its enforcement effort, allegedly issuing $780,000 in fines in the space of two months, bringing the total since UberX began operating in Queensland to $1.3 million. How much has Uber paid? Not a penny! In fact the whole ‘enforcement’ thing Australia wide has been a charade, a farce, a con, the huffing and puffing of a bunch of windbags.

When it comes to spin and bullshit Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is up there with the best of them. Following her Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe’s announcement of the reform package on 11 August she gushed on her Facebook page:

“My Government will usher in sweeping reforms that will create a level playing field. We want to put a premium on passenger safety, and ensure all operators follow a new, fair set of rules, with the best interests of consumers at heart.”

“Queensland is the innovation state. We are advancing Queensland. We are embracing innovative new technologies and business models right across our economy and up and down our state, and the personalised transport sector is no different.”

“But at the same time as we embrace the future, we will do it in a way that supports the taxi industry. This is a challenge all Governments across Australia have faced.”

“This is because the taxi industry is different from many other industries that have faced disruption, because it has been heavily regulated by Government for generations.”

“Not only will there be a $100 million industry assistance package, including over $4 million in waived taxi fees over the next 12 months, but 80 pieces of taxi red tape will be cut.”

“After all, none of us want to leave any of our fellow Queenslanders behind”, she wrote.

Well, you already have Premier, by not enforcing the law. As a result UberX is already solidly established in the key areas of Queensland (Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast) stealing on average 25% of the market. As a consequence, around 10,000 bailee and owner-drivers are struggling to earn a living and some 2000 individual licence owners have been watching helplessly as their ‘superannuation’ lost 60% of its value. Legalising ridesharing will further decimate both incomes and assets in the taxi industry.

Queensland has always prided itself of having a world-class taxi service and two years of Uber hasn’t changed that. A Government-commissioned Roy Morgan ‘secret shopper’ survey, released in July 2016, shows an overall 90% satisfaction rating for Queensland taxis, a rating which will be impossible to achieve under Palaszczuk’s new order - or rather ‘disorder’. The Premier believes that removing 80 pieces of so-called ‘red tape’ i.e. regulation from the taxi industry is synonymous with “creating a level playing field” whilst having “the best interests of consumers at heart”. And that, she assumes, will, amongst other brainstorms, be achieved by removing most regulations relating to customer service standards.

To illustrate just how insane the Government’s reforms are it has provided an FAQ section on the “taxi-changes’ page on its website but to give you a taste, here are a few examples:

Q: Why has the Government stopped regulating customer service standards like having clean and tidy taxis and managing complaints?

A: In the new competitive environment for booked hire services customer preferences and needs will dictate the service standards and offerings and the Queensland Government will no longer take a role in regulating these matters. This will allow the industry to innovate and focus on delivering improved customer service and a wider range of service offerings to ensure they attract customers and increase their market share.

That begs the question: Why did governments regulate service standards in the first place? Answer: Because neither the networks or the taxi operators could be trusted to uphold acceptable standards, most recently demonstrated in the period from 2005 to 2010 when the industry was flooded with foreign students from third-world countries with no Australian driving, cultural or language skills. So bad did the situation become that in April 2010 Transport Ministers from the Commonwealth, States and Territories met in Perth at the Australian Transport Council (ATC) where they endorsed the National Minimum English Standard to be implemented using the International Second Language Proficiency Ratings standard or equivalent as part of all metropolitan taxi driver licensing assessments from 1 July 2010. That simple agreement lifted overall standards and therefore customer satisfaction substantially.

No more! It’s back to the dark ages. Passing an English test will no longer be required, in fact, nor will driver training and assessment. It will be up to the booking services to set and police their own standards. Taxi driver authorities will be a thing of the past. They will be replaced with a generic licence for all ‘personalised transport drivers’ to be called a Booked Hire/Taxi (BHTX) Driver Authorisation.

Other service standards that will also be removed include dress and appearance of drivers, cleanliness and comfort of vehicles, minimum age limits for drivers and vehicles and electronic payments. But wait, there’s more!

Q: Can I charge more than the maximum fares for some journeys?

A: Maximum fares will not apply to booked services and you will be allowed to establish your own fare rates and charges.

BULLSHIT! The booking services will mandate the fares you can charge.

Q: What if I’m providing a booked taxi service and a customer wants me to use the taximeter?

A: Because fares for booked taxi services will no longer be regulated by government – you are required to provide the customer with an estimate of the total fare before the journey or agree to the fare up front. If the customer asks for the taximeter to be used, you don’t have to agree to this. It is up to you (as the service provider) to agree this with your customer if you want to.

How cool is that? Not cool at all. Unless you think you can live off ‘rank and hail’ you will obviously have no choice but to belong to a booking service although from 2017 this will no longer be mandatory for regular taxis. Every booking service will demand you sign a contract, which will effectively take away any rights and freedoms you previously had as a driver. It will be your booking service(s) that sets the fare rates, provides the passenger with a quote (mandatory), decides whether it is a firm quote or subject to actual time and distance using the regulated meter rate or its own rates through its app.

Gold Coast Cabs CEO Gordana Blazevic has announced plans to introduce surge pricing to stop the exodus of drivers to Uber. “If we don’t we won’t have any drivers left”, she told the Gold Coast Bulletin.

And if you do Ms Blazevic, you won’t have any customers left. Uber’s surge pricing is the only reason why its users book or hail cabs during busy times.

The reforms, which will be introduced in stages during 2016 and 2017, will result in a shit-fight between the old taxi networks and Uber and at the receiving end will be the drivers who will see their income further decimated as the booking services inevitably start competing on price. That will create a whole new class of ‘working poor’ and casual disposable workers. Whether you are an owner-driver or a bailee, you will be screwed.

As it will be much easier and cheaper to obtain a driver authorisation, one that covers all types of point-to-point (P2P) passenger transport (BHTX Authority), the market will be flooded with both taxi and ride-share drivers as unemployment and underemployment in other industries continues to grow. The exploitation and bullying of drivers by the booking services will surpass anything experienced in the past. Their justification will be the same as that advanced by an Uber executive in an television interview in the US last year when asked why the company was increasing its share of fares from 20% to 30% and at the same time lowering fares by 20%: “Because we can!”. Not that this is a novel attitude to the taxi industry mafia. It has been applying it for decades, e.g. fleecing of the public with its 10% surcharge on EFTPOS, manipulating of the value of taxi licences and charging taxi operators exorbitant radio and other fees. And simply because they could, thanks to political incompetence, collusion and corruption. The reforms will not change the attitude, they will only change the methodology starting with ‘ihail’, the mother of all P2P booking apps, invented by MTData and owned in part by Yellow Cabs and Black & White Cabs…and of course Cabcharge. Never heard of ‘ihail’? Well, click here

Welcome to Annastacia’s ‘copy and paste’ innovation state!

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OZ Cabbie February 2017

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