It’s no secret that established taxi operators have a thorn in their paw put there by app-based transportation service, Uber. One man took his fight against the app’s ride-sharing service UberX a bit too far this afternoon, attempting a citizen’s arrest of a driver. We’ve now spoken to the man at the centre of the arrest movement, and he promises to arrest a Sydney UberX driver every single day for the forseeable future.
The man at the centre of the affair is Russell Howarth, and he is a limo driver in Sydney which also uses the Uber service for passenger bookings.
Russell has created a website meant to “expose the truth” behind the UberX service, branding it an uninsured and unsafe option for passengers to use. The Twitter account owned and operated by Russell, @ArrestingUber, is linked to the cause, and frequently tweets out anti-UberX messages.
This afternoon, @ArrestingUber said that there was to be an arrest of UberX drivers operating in Sydney as a protest against the service. However, this turned out to be a slightly watered-down claim.
NSW Police told us this afternoon that at approximately 4pm AEDT, a man made a booking through a car sharing service, and during the travel accused the driver of being unlicensed while also driving an unregistered vehicle.
Police added that after the accusation was made, the passenger requested to be taken to Newtown Police Station. Upon arrival the passenger requested that the driver accompany him inside. Police checks revealed that the driver in fact was driving a registered vehicle and was properly licensed, meaning no further police action was taken.
The Taxi Council of NSW told Gizmodo that while it doesn’t agree with Uber’s business model in Sydney, it doesn’t condone rash action such as citizen’s arrests either. The Taxi Council called for calm, and said that the problems with the service ought to be dealt with via the process currently underway with Transport For NSW and the Minister for Transport’s office.
The NSW Government has warned several times that UberX drivers could face fines for operating a ride-sharing service in breach of current legislation.
Uber Sydney’s General Manager David Rohsheim told us that today’s exercise was just a stunt.
“It seems there was an attempted publicity stunt today. I’m sure we would have heard if any Uber partners had been arrested, but we have not.”
We have since received a response from Russell, and he tells us that today was “just a warm up”, adding that he plans to try and arrest UberX drivers every single day:
“I’m going to continue to arrest UberX drivers until the Government gets serious about regulations that carries a $110,000 penalty. When you operate one of these cars it’s almost certain you’re committing two offences at once because the driver isn’t accredited to do it and the car isn’t registered as for a hire car activity.
“[When I went to the station today] the police advised me I had no right to perform a citizen’s arrest. They then threatened to arrest me if I didn’t drop the action. I refused and said ‘you need to charge this person’.
“I don’t want to question the capability of the police here, but because the driver is licensed as a taxi driver the police thought that because his private car. They’ve got his details and the case has not been finalised and now they know that they can still prosecute him.
“The thing that upset the police the most today is that the driver parked the car in the police zone,” Russell laughed.
“The Transport Minister will get the copy of my statement and it will articulate clearly that the vehicle wasn’t licensed and that the driver isn’t licensed as a hire car driver. I have the guy admitting that he knew it was an offence.”
Russell then responded to David Rohrsheim’s claim that the Arresting Uber activity is a stunt:
“It isn’t a stunt. This is just a warm-up. I will be doing this every day. I have a news crew who wants to film me doing it. My primary concern is people’s safety.”
Russell added that he plans to make his next “arrest” as early as tomorrow morning in Sydney.