BY ALEC SMART
Uber, the rideshare alternative to taxis, will display identification on all their NSW vehicles from November 1 in new industry rules. Until now, Uber cars, driven by private owners, were indistinguishable from other motorists’ vehicles.
However, some Uber drivers claim making them identifiable will lead to harassment in various forms.
A spokesperson from Uber confirmed the change in Law. “As part of ongoing regulatory reforms, the New South Wales Government will require rideshare drivers to display stickers on vehicles from 1st November. We’re working closely with Transport for NSW and drivers to implement the new requirements.
A Transport for NSW spokesperson added, “A focus on customer safety and fare flexibility is at the heart of new rules for the taxi, rideshare and hire car industry to come into effect on 1 November 2017.”
And yet Uber, founded in 2009 and operating in over 500 cities across 82 countries worldwide, will still be prevented from travelling along bus lanes – unlike taxis and hire cars – or forbidden from picking up and dropping off passengers in allocated ranks.
There are no plans to introduce designated Uber collection bays in Sydney, something familiar in other cities around the world, although there are dedicated Uber pitches at Sydney Airport.
Currently, in accordance with the Passenger Transport Act 1994, licenced taxis are the only vehicles that can accept bookings from cab ranks or pick up customers hailing them from the roadside.
The Transport for NSW spokesperson confirmed, “Only licenced taxis can pick up customers from taxi ranks or be hailed in the street. Existing arrangements will continue with regards to bus lane access for taxis.”
Some Uber drivers claim that making them identifiable will provoke harassment in various forms.
Paul, a former taxi operator who switched to Uber driving, thinks the new identification will cause Uber drivers trouble.
“I believe RMS inspectors and police are likely to target us more. In the city with drop-offs and pick-ups, a lot of places to pull over are illegal. The CBD is full of no stopping zones and there are few legitimate parking areas to pick up passengers. Now that we have identifying decals, police will likely enforce the law more strictly if they see us stop to pick up a fare.
“Also, patrons who are keen to get home and see an Uber decal will more likely approach and see if we want to do a cash job instead of booking through the app. Even though it is illegal to do that, I suspect it will increase.”
Mark, an Uber driver for two years, is worried that taxi drivers, resentful that their business is decreasing while Uber gains popularity, might express their displeasure.
“I think we’ll be a bigger target for rogue taxi drivers. I’ve had a few threatening incidents where I’ve been verbally abused or followed by taxi drivers. They were completely random and intimidating.”
Paul concurs, “I think we will be made a target. Aggressive taxi drivers who see our decals can do damage to our vehicles if they want.”
Alan, who has been driving Uber for three years, already has the company logo displayed in his vehicle window, as he drives occasionally in Queensland, where identification is compulsory.
“I’ve heard of instances where taxis have tried to bully other drivers and police have stepped in. In the taxi industry, their plates got devalued when Uber arrived, and many taxi drivers are very unhappy about that.
“I knew a fellow Uber driver who was parked behind the casino, and three taxis parked around him, in front, behind and to one side, boxing him in. He contacted the police who came and issued tickets to all three taxi drivers who blocked him. There’s little games like that taking place.”
In April this year, Adelaide City Councillor Phil Martin introduced a motion whereby rideshare companies such as Uber could pick up passengers from designated zones at major events and adjacent to entertainment, dining or nightclub precincts in the city and North Adelaide.
“Anything that makes the pick-up and drop-off experience safer and more convenient can only be a good thing for Adelaide drivers and riders,” an Uber spokesperson responded at the time.
Alan is hopeful. “I think there should be reviews in progress to determine whether Uber drivers can carry TV – transport vehicle – number plates, to enable us to drive in bus lanes that taxis and hire vehicles have access to already.”