Transport Ministry recommends putting Uber drivers on same footing as taxis

The review of regulations covering small passenger services, begun at the start of the year.

See also: Transport Ministry’s recommendations will neuter Uber – Crampton

UPDATEDUber would have to operate under the same rules as taxis and the current rules governing pricing would be wiped under new regulations recommended by the Ministry of Transport today, which have found favour with taxi operators.

The review of regulations covering small passenger services, begun at the start of the year, has outlined five options and recommended one with fewer rules that apply to all operators in the sector. That include taxis, private hire cars, shuttles, dial-a-driver, and ride-sharing services.

Uber, a mobile app service that lets people book rides, is already popular in Auckland and Wellington and the use of ride-sharing apps (an extension of car pooling) is expected to become more widespread.

The global spread of Uber has been opposed by taxi operators who currently have to function under tougher regulations that impose extra costs. Uber has argued that it is not a taxi service but simply links passengers with drivers who are private contractors.

The government’s proposals do nothing to reduce red tape for people wanting to earn some extra income through sharing rides in their own cars, Uber said in a statement.

"The status quo of a minimum of  eight weeks of administration and $1,500 in fees to even get on the road is unacceptable. Yet there is no response from the Government as to how to they plan to address this," it said.

NZ Taxi Federation chief executive Roger Heale said he welcomed the release of the paper although the "devil is in the detail.

"When the government first asked for submissions earlier this year, we called for a level playing field that valued driver and passenger safety, recognised the high quality of existing industry standards and embraced new technologies. On first read, this document appears to offer that," he said.

Uber could not be reached for immediate comment but in a September press release it said Kiwis have taken over one million rides through the technology platform since it launched in May last year, and more than 100,000 people were now choosing it as a way to move around their city.

Under the ministry's recommended option, Uber would have to check drivers' log books and vehicle safety and force them to work within the seven-hour time limits applied to taxi drivers. The current requirement for taxis to install security cameras could be waived. Circumstances would include where the passenger is registered with the company or driver, and before each trip, the company or driver records the name and a photo of the passenger or driver which is made available to one another. Panic alarms would no longer be required, given any driver can refuse to take a passenger when they consider their personal safety is at risk.

Before the trip starts, drivers or the company at the time of booking would have to agree the basis of the fare with passengers, either a set fare or per kilometre rate rather than the fixed price or meter presently used in taxis.

The Ministry of Transport also suggests removing requirements for drivers to be able to speak English as the New Zealand Transport Agency says few taxi drivers are currently tested for this requirement anyway. It also suggests removing an area knowledge test in urban areas, designed to ensure drivers use the most direct route, because new technology such as GPS systems mean passengers can track this themselves.

The review acknowledges that the current regulations developed in the 1980s haven't kept pace with changes in technology or customer expectations. It said the government wants to mitigate the safety risks that exist because drivers and passengers have little information about each other.

Public submissions on the consultation paper are open until February 12.

(BusinessDesk)

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