Taxi drivers have staged rallies in Melbourne and Sydney demanding state governments outlaw the ride-sharing service UberX.
Around 400 drivers and their supporters gathered outside the New South Wales parliament chanting, “Shame on Uber”, and demanding the state transport minister, Andrew Constance, resign.
“We don’t want [Uber] regulated, we want them out,” one driver told the raucous crowd. Another warned: “If the minister won’t stop Uber, then we will stop Uber. If he doesn’t have the balls, we have the balls.”
Traffic on Macquarie Street in Sydney slowed to a crawl during the protest, with some rally organisers offering to pay drivers’ fines if they parked on the street.
Another demonstration outside the Victorian parliament, timed to coincide with a strike by tram operators, saw similar gridlock on Spring Street in Melbourne.
More than 350 drivers marched down Bourke, Exhibition and Swanston streets carrying signs that read, “Stop illegal Uber” and “Victorian taxi families and hire cars want justice”.
“All the drivers as acknowledged by Roads and Maritime to be driving illegal, and Uber, through their app, are aiding and abetting them to drive illegally,” one driver, Graham Sprigg, said.
“There’s not a level playing field. The taxi industry has a lot of fees to comply with the regulatory environment, and Uber has cut a lot of those costs.”
A taskforce commissioned by the Baird government said in a discussion paper last month that Uber “appear[s] to meet the criteria of a public passenger service” and should be subject to existing taxi regulations.
It noted the industry was in transition, existing regulations were “difficult to enforce”, and that “the regulatory burden on taxis has led to high costs, and ultimately to higher fares for customers”. The final report is due in October.
The state opposition leader, Luke Foley, has endorsed UberX as a way to ease congestion, and called for service to be legalised and regulated. “The NSW government is perfectly capable of providing these rapidly developing industries with certainty if it has the will and the vision,” Foley has said.
The San Francisco based company has attracted controversy for its UberX feature, which allows private vehicles to pick up passengers and track fares through its app. Budding drivers are required to have a licence and personal car insurance, and undergo criminal background checks.
But critics such as the NSW taxi council have erected billboards claiming the service is “no safer than hitchhiking” and exposes passengers to “significant risk”.
Nonetheless, the service announced in May it had been used more than one million times in Sydney alone, and claims more than 15,000 people around the country had signed up to be UberX drivers.
In May the Australian Tax Office issued a ruling that Uber drivers were providing taxi services and should charge GST on fares, a decision Uber’s Dutch parent company, Uber BV, is challenging in the federal court.
Larger protests have been held in France and Brazil over the service, and the service has been banned in Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, but continues to operate.
A global day of action against Uber is planned for 16 September.
This article was written by Michael Safi, for theguardian.com on Thursday 10th September 2015 05.09 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010