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Uber thanks Seymour, taxi industry fumes as Land Transport Amendment Bill passes

Uber doesn't get things all its own way, and could be caught out by P endorsement requirement.

Chris Keall
Fri, 04 Aug 2017

After operating in a legal grey area since 2014, Uber is now street-legal in New Zealand – thanks to the Land Transport Amendment Bill (No 2) which has passed its third and final reading in Parliament.

The legislation will come into force on October 1. It was supported by National, Act and UnitedFuture, with Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party opposed.

The head of New Zealand's largest taxi company, Blue Bubble Taxis chief executive Bob Wilkinson, says he’s extremely “extremely disappointed the government did not listen to the industry, and has pushed through flawed legislation that reduces safety for small passenger service vehicle (taxi) drivers and passengers.”

He says because Uber’s contract drivers are managed via a smartphone app, and a smartphone can be handed to another person, there’s effectively no way to enforce rules over driving hours.

He points to the recent case of an Uber driver who drove a couple from Auckland to Wellington overnight after already working a full day behind the wheel.

Mr Wilkinson also questions why the legislative update removed the requirement for security cameras, which he sees as a protection for drivers, and the requirement for signage in Braille. 

P endorsement requirement a thorn in Uber's side
However, the taxi industry did have one win, with the requirement of a special license to carry passengers (known as a “P" endorsement) is maintained in the updated legislation.

Uber does not require its drivers to have a P licence (though it does run a police background check).

The US multinational did not immediately respond to NBR’s query, or a followup query, over how many of its contract drivers in New Zealand hold a P licence.

Mr Wilkinson is clearly going to keep the heat on about that point. He says all vehicles and drivers in his fleet will be legal by October 1, but he's not sure about others.

More teeth
As well as potentially thinning Uber’s ranks, the P license requirement will give the NZTA some teeth.

When NBR last checked in with the NZTA, it was dragging its feet on its investigation of the Auckland-Wellington Uber driver but the ultimate outcome was likely not consequential in any case.

The NZTA has the power to remove a driver’s P licence – that means he or she would effectively lose their job at a taxi company but, with Uber not requiring one, it would have been a slap with a wet bus ticket. That will change after October 1.

Uber’s NZ general manager, Richard Menzie did send a statement saying he was pleased the government had formally recognised his company as part of New Zealand’s transport system.

“This wouldn't have been possible without ACT MP David Seymour's advocacy for sensible ridesharing regulations, as well as the efforts of the Minister for Transport, Simon Bridges MP, to deliver these reforms.”

He says Uber has 330,000 users in New Zealand and 4000 drivers.

The company says it has several safety measures, including real-time tracking of rides for passengers, friends or family of passengers and drivers.

Commentators including Ian Apperley have called on the taxi industry to do less moaning, and put more effort into its own apps and payment systems.

Mr Wilkinson says companies in the Blue Bubble Taxis alliance "have an app out there that works, and you can pre-pay."

But he adds, "To be fair, our offering at the moment is dated. It does need updating. That's something we hope to rectify very, very shortly."

Chris Keall
Fri, 04 Aug 2017
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Uber thanks Seymour, taxi industry fumes as Land Transport Amendment Bill passes
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