Ridesharing service Uber has told the ACT government its fleet of private cars could provide the missing link to get Canberrans to and from the light rail once it begins operating.
The operator of the smart phone app that has taken the world by storm and upset taxi operators in equal measure, hopes to begin operating in the ACT by the end of the year. But unlike other markets where it has clashed with governments, Uber has decided to await the outcome of the Legislative Assembly's current inquiry into the taxi industry before starting up in the territory.
Uber allows customers and drivers to connect via a smartphone app, with rides typically costing around 30-50 per cent less than a standard taxi fare, with drivers able to turn the app on and off to work at times of their choosing.
Uber policy director Brad Kitschke said the ACT had been one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the country in relation to ride sharing, and he was hopeful the right regulatory framework would be in place before the service began, making it a first for Australia.
"To date the signs from the government have been positive, and if the ACT sticks to the proposed timeline it would be the first jurisdiction in the world outside the United States to introduce a regulatory framework for ridesharing before it becomes available in a market," Mr Kitschke said.
In other states including NSW and Queensland transport authorities have fined scores of Uber drivers for operating without licences required by the state. In France angry taxi drivers began blockading roads during the week, ambushing Uber drivers and setting cars on fire in protest to the service. Protests have also spread to Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK, where taxi and hire car drivers fear their jobs are at risk from a flood of low-cost competitors created by ridesharing.
"Uber believes that it can be an effective last mile for public transport and the ACT government's investment in light rail is particularly attractive to Uber," the submission said.
The company had had around 1000 expressions of interest from potential drivers in the ACT, with 250 people attending a recent public information session.
In its submission Uber argues ridesharing should not be regulated the same way as taxis because its drivers cannot accept rank or hail work, which accounts for around 60-70 per cent of all point-to-point rides in the ACT.
It also argues that its uberAssist service could provide more wheelchair accessible vehicles for Canberra by allowing those who had a vehicle converted for a family member to use it for ridesharing in times when it was not in use.
Last month, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr signalled deregulation in the taxi industry with the arrival of Uber, saying it would be crazy to put up barriers to the ride-sharing company.
The Canberra Taxi Industry Association said in February they welcomed innovation and competition to the Canberra market, as long as all service providers were operating under the same set of rules and conditions.
Mr Kitschke said it was too early to predict how many Uber drivers might hit Canberra streets if the service does begin in October as hoped, but experience in other cities showed it was likely to increase at times of greatest demand rather than take work away from existing operators.
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