ACT News

Canberra taxi drivers strike over Uber

Close to 100 taxi drivers protested the expected arrival of Uber outside the ACT Legislative Assembly on Wednesday morning, calling on the ACT Government to regulate the ride sharing service and to ensure a level playing field for taxis. 

Those protesting carried signs saying: "One industry: One law" and "Ban Uber",  and Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury fronted to answer their questions in what was, at times, a tense meeting.

Canberra's striking taxi drivers gather in Kingston for the beginning of their three-hour strike.
Canberra's striking taxi drivers gather in Kingston for the beginning of their three-hour strike. Photo: Karleen Minney

Mr Rattenbury, who is also the minister assisting the chief minister on transport reform, was questioned for five minutes by the group about their regulation and safety concerns. 

Shane Rattenbury is swamped by taxi owners and drivers.
Shane Rattenbury is swamped by taxi owners and drivers. Photo: Jay Cronan

He said the industry would be deregulated and the playing field levelled, with a review due to be released in the coming weeks.

"We do intend to regulate Uber and there will be a degree of regulation – similar to what the taxis have to go through already," he said.

"We also intend to undertake a range of deregulation for the taxi industry to take away some of the rules and costs that have been placed on the taxi industry, thus starting to level out the playing field." 

ACT Transport Workers Union secretary Klaus Pinkas said he was sympathetic towards the drivers and would provide support to any who needed it in coming months.

"You can either ban Uber, which is going to be hard work there is no doubt about it, or you can attempt bring the taxi costs and regulation down and bring [regulation of] Uber up and meet in the middle," he said.

"It needs to be at the same level and I think that's a no brainer."

As Canberrans heard of the strike on Wednesday morning, Uber sent text messages to its ACT supporters and urged them to lobby their local members. 

"They are trying to protect their investments by denying the people of Canberra the same safe and affordable rides that over one million Australians enjoy in cities across the country," the message said. 

Mr Rattenbury said he agreed with the Chief Minister Andrew Barr that the government could not stop the arrival of Uber.

"I thought [the protesters] were pretty polite and they weren't rude, they were just passionate," he said.

"There is an inevitability of change and we have been the most proactive government has in Australia in terms of getting in top of this issue."

One of the drivers at the protest Amit Kumar, who has been driving taxis for six years, said the decision to strike was necessary given their concerns.

"This is affecting our families as well ... this is our business and we are taking the food from these jobs," he said.

"You can see how many people are here and if Uber has a negative impact then many of these people are going to be looking for new jobs."

Others at the protest were not confident reforms could protect the taxi industry and remained hopeful Uber could be stopped. 

Earlier on Wednesday morning, taxis congregated outside the Kingston railway station on Burke Crescent before driving to the protest. 

They travelled along Canberra Avenue, State Circle and Commonwealth Avenue, then onto London Circuit towards the assembly to conduct their peaceful protest. 

Canberra Taxi Industry Association executive director Tony Bryce said he did not call for the strike but was concerned for ACT drivers.

"You've got a society of people whose livelihood depends on taxis, and that is under threat by a group of people who are able to drive with Uber on a part-time casual basis for extra money," he said.

The ACT government is expected to publish the findings of an independent review of Canberra's taxi industry in coming weeks, with Uber set to arrive as early as October.

Mr Rattenbury said it was not clear when Uber would come but the government were working to release new regulation as soon as possible. 

"We have indicated to Uber they should expect that regulation and we hope and trust they will abide by that," he said. 

"When there is regulation there, we will be enforcing it."

The strike ended peacefully at 10.30am.