The Taxi Services Commission (TSC) has issued fines of approximately $1,700 to more than 30 Uber drivers in Melbourne for driving without a commercial passenger vehicle licence.
This has resulted in UberX shutting down their services in Melbourne.
The international transportation company, Uber, has been operating for two years in Australia, enabling users in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to track a hire car from the moment of the booking to the end of the ride. Essentially acting as a booking agency for professional drivers.
However, less than one month ago, Uber introduced a ride-sharing service called UberX. It allows anyone over the age of 24 with an Australian driver’s license, comprehensive insurance, no criminal record and a reasonably sized vehicle that is less than nine years old to register as an UberX driver.
Under the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983, all vehicles that operate for hire and revenue must be licensed to do so. Although UberX drivers have been informed by Uber representatives that the use of their private vehicles is not illegal as it is considered ‘carpooling’, they are in fact not excluded from this act.
So, is UberX effective enough to revamp itself in Melbourne by making a commercial passenger vehicle license a requirement for drivers?
Just days before UberX ended its services, we downloaded the app and got in touch with a driver. Five minutes later, he picked us up and proceeded to take us to our destination as we casually asked him about his experiences with UberX.
Even though the trip didn’t meet legal requirements, he described the original application process as “rigorous”, with thorough background checks, several online driving tests and a face-to-face interview.
“They make sure they are getting the right people on board because it is a job which involves a lot of responsibility,” he told upstart.
He explained the benefits of being an UberX driver, as opposed to working as a taxi driver.
“As an UberX driver, I own this car – this is my car. So, all I have to do is maintain it and take care of the fuel.
“Uber drivers get 80 per cent of the fare, whilst drivers from other providers must give 50 per cent of their earnings to their vehicle provider,” he says.
UberX therefore provides an opportunity for those who want to earn money with the basic tools that they already have.
“I don’t see this as a negative, I really see this as a great alternative, because you’re earning a decent amount as your own boss. Maybe someone can make a full time career out of it, you never know.
“It’s an option for those who want to go and meet people and make a living out of it,” he says.
Although some may question the safety of the UberX service, our driver educated us on the different features that the app has to ensure a friendly and safe travel system.
“Drivers and passengers can rate each other out of five stars based on their behaviour and cooperation.
“Uber only gives access to people who behave well, so if drivers want to keep their jobs and passengers want access to the service, they need to maintain a high rating,” he says.
There are also other ways for drivers and passengers to protect themselves and others to ensure one-off incidents don’t go unnoticed.
“Drivers and passengers can blacklist each other if they behave poorly. We can also write comments on each other’s profiles if they misbehaved or were rude. At the same time they can put a good comment like ‘we had an awesome ride’,” he says.
Thus, the ridesharing service is designed to create a comfortable trip, where people are helping other people.
“Uber allows customers to communicate with like-minded people, whereas in a cab, people don’t want to talk to the cabby anymore as they are not sure if they are going to reach their destination in one piece.
“There is no money or financial party involved, as the app is linked to your credit or debit card. It is all done automatically,” he says.
The ridesharing app is also a lot cheaper, as other cab providers use Cabcharge to provide EFTPOS facilities to passengers, which means extra costs.
Although taxi companies have also introduced apps of their own, they essentially use the same booking method that is done over the phone, whereas Uber utilises the modern GPS function to show customers where the nearest cars are and send them straight to you.
More ride-sharing apps are predicted to enter the Australian market with two already being announced; Backseat and RideSurfing.
“When more organisations like this arrive, there will be more options available to people. The more competition there is in the market, the lower the rates will become, which is good for customers,” he says.
Now that the sanctions have been issued and the laws have been confirmed, UberX drivers can utilise the time the company has taken to renounce their services to obtain their commercial passenger vehicle license.
This is the only way the app can continue to work effectively – by working lawfully as well.
“I don’t see a negative at all. It is a better alternative for everyone,” he says.
Julian Gasparri is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University, and a staff writer for upstart. You can follow him on Twitter: @JulianGasparri.
Lauren Colosimo is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and a staff writer for upstart. Follow her on Twitter: @laurenacolosimo.