ACT News

Public servants set for Uber ride sharing in Canberra

ACT public servants will be able to bill their business related Uber trips to taxpayers with federal departments also considering similar provisions.

The move would allow departments to reduce their annual CabCharge bills that cost one federal department more than $4 million last year.

Signed up: Chief Minister Andrew Barr talks with future Uber drivers Gary Woodbridge and Teferi Gungl.
Signed up: Chief Minister Andrew Barr talks with future Uber drivers Gary Woodbridge and Teferi Gungl.  Photo: Graham Tidy

On Wednesday, the ACT government announced planned changes to regulation to allow ride-sharing businesses to operate from next month. Uber said 3500 people had registered to drive.

The company is yet to say when it will begin offering rides in Canberra, but it is expected to be close to October 30. 

An ACT government spokesman said the public service was determined to ensure the best use of public funds and staff would be able to charge Uber fares to their departments.  

"The introduction of regulated ride-sharing will be an additional travel option added to the range currently available for ACT government staff," he said.

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The Australian Taxation Office has refused to rule out using Uber after paying nearly $4 million for taxis for staff in the past year.

The ATO, which has paid $11.5 million in taxi fares for its employees in the past three financial years, says it is exploring "alternative and emerging modes of transport" as it strives to save money.

"The ATO currently does not include 'ride-sharing providers' as part of our official travel arrangements," a spokesman said.

Senator David Leyonhjelm said politicians and federal public servants could save taxpayers money by claiming Uber rides, which are in most cases cheaper than taxi fares.

Mr Leyonhjelm said he was surprised the ACT government had shown leadership on ride-sharing reforms although other states and territories should take note. 

"It's a bit unusual for the ACT to be ahead of the pack as they are generally a bit backward in my opinion with a tendency towards nanny state policies, like we saw with banning certain advertisements on buses last week," he said.

"Their approach has been refreshing and basically acknowledges people have a choice and Uber is popular with consumers, although they have also acknowledged that taxis have an investment in their cabs"

Mr Leyonhjelm said the process of claiming Uber expenses could be streamlined to encourage politicians and public servants to seek cheaper modes of transport.

"If there was some sort of autocharge for Uber then I think a lot of us would use it and it could say money for taxpayers," he said.

While the ACT government's regulation of ride-sharing services has been welcomed by consumer groups, the taxi industry has continued to describe it as flawed and rushed.

"The ACT Government had the opportunity to show real leadership on this issue but instead they failed to work up comprehensive solutions with key stakeholders," said  Australian Taxi Industry Association chief executive Blair Davies.

NSW Taxi Council chief executive Roy Wakelin-King said the regulations would do little to level the playing field for taxi drivers and owners.

"The measures announced today seek to allow ride-sharing services to compete with taxis by lowering the standards for everyone," he said.

"History shows us there is a need for stringent regulatory frameworks to avoid a 'race to the bottom' for transport standards."

Mr Leyonhjelm said further competition was needed in the transport industry and he hoped new competitors to Uber would soon emerge.