Uber facing further roadblocks

Ride-sharing behemoth Uber was hoping for an easy ride, but will be far from pleased as new legislation takes shape

When Uber arrived in New Zealand a few years ago, it was with great excitement.

Until then taking a taxi was like pulling a tooth – expensive and time-consuming.

But Uber changed all that. At a click of a button a ride could be ordered, its arrival tracked via an app and all at a bargain price.

Things were great, for a while, but recently their glossy image has begun to tarnish.

It started with a decision by the American company to drop requirements for its drivers to hold P Endorsements.

Despite Uber's carefully worded statements this was illegal, and a once-rosy relationship with the Government began to sour.

Media coverage of its decision portrayed the move as an attempt to mould the law to its demands and then overseas reports began to surface about a toxic culture within the company.

The Government did, however, admit the law needed a refresh and the Land Transport Amendment Bill has been making its way through the Transport and Industrial Relations select committee.

Alongside work on alcohol interlocks and heavy vehicle regulations, the bill is considering how to modernise the law for a rapidly-changing small passenger service industry.

Uber has pushed for a raft of concessions in the bill on top of streamlining the endorsement process, lobbying to drop the requirements for its drivers to keep log books.

But this was rejected when the committee reported back on Wednesday.

Perhaps more interestingly, the requirement that a person in “control of a service” must live in the country was also retained, which puts Uber in a sticky situation.

As a global company with a small footprint in New Zealand, just how this would work is uncertain. It is sure to mean more frantic lobbying on Uber’s part, regardless.

In a written statement, Uber's spokesman Caspar Nixon said the company looked forward to reviewing the report to ensure ride-sharing costs and requirements were accessible for New Zealanders.

"In the meantime, we'll continue providing our safe, fast and affordable screening process that delivers the safety outcomes the travelling public want and expect."

Uber may not have got everything it wanted, but it should be noted the committee’s report failed to please the other side of the industry as well.

Blue Bubble, who represent a large group of taxi companies including Wellington Combined and Auckland Co-Op, were upset watered-down safety provisions had not been restored.

The bill will remove the requirement for passenger service vehicles to require safety cameras.

This measure was introduced in 2011 after the murder of Auckland taxi driver Hiren Mohini.

The taxi industry was also upset at watered-down safety measures. Photo: Lynn Grieveson
 

Uber claims there is no need for cameras in drivers' cars, as none of their fares were anonymous due to them being arranged through an app.

There have been no deaths of taxi drivers since cameras were introduced and if they are removed, a violent incident would bring the spotlight sharply back on the decision to drop the requirement.

In the committee assessment, it was noted Labour will put forward an amendment to the proposed legislation restoring the camera requirement, citing the safety improvement since they were introduced.

Blue Bubble’s other concerns, such as the fact drivers will no longer be required to pass an English language and local area knowledge test, seem redundant.

With the advancement of technology and GPS, there is little need for a driver to know the back streets of a city.

John Hart, director of the Taxi Federation, says all his industry wants is for everyone to play by the same rules.

Having someone in the country they operated in that would be accountable made sense.

“I think the legislation was written for Uber, frankly, but I think the politicians, the Government, realised there had to be someone to go to.

“We have people call us complaining about price surging with Uber … we’ve had others who’ve had their credit cards used fraudulently and want to know who to get hold of, there’s no-one to get hold of.”

The Bill will now head to a second reading.

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