The Uber Queensland Papers: Ride-Sharing Service Airs Dirty Laundry

Uber is in the fight of its life in Queensland. The service is booming, but the boot of the regulator looms large as the State Premier vows to crack down on ride sharing. Uber's latest salvo is a 44-page policy document that has been splashed around the State's Parliament. It's the case for Uber Queensland, it's not great news for taxi operators.

In a document developed specifically to bring Queensland MPs to Uber's cause, the ride-sharing service outlines its protracted uphill battle with state regulators and the local taxi duopoly, while also revealing stats that demonstrate its success in the state.

The document was handed out to Queensland MPs following comments from Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last weekend.

It all started when a cab driver named Leo Gately stood up at a Community Cabinet event and asked Premier Palaszczuk a question about the ride-sharing service while also raising safety concerns about riders who use Uber. Gately told the Premier that he'd seen Uber recruiting drivers around the Rockhampton area, and said that it's "more important than ever" that the government "impose heavy fines and penalties against unlicensed drivers".

The Premier responded saying that she does have concerns about the safety of the service, and may move to shut it down pending an ongoing investigation.

"The number one priority needs to be that when people hop into a cab...they need to know that they are safe. And when you apply to be a taxi driver you do have all of those regulated checks," she told Gately.

The exchange made the news. Naturally, Uber wasn't about to take that lying down, and hastily put together a policy hit-piece it could slide under the door of every Queensland MP.

Uber makes numerous allegations of bias towards the incumbent taxi duopoly in the document, and accuses the Government of being opposed to progress, new jobs and new transport solutions for the state.

Jobs

In an email sent to all Australian Uber users back in February, the ride-sharing service said that it wanted to create 20,000 jobs in the nation's economy by the end of 2015.

Meanwhile, Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey <a href="">expressed support for Uber to the Cabinet, saying in February that sharing economy jobs are good for Australia.

More: Uber Wants To Create 20,000 Jobs In The Australian Economy, But What Sort Of Jobs Are They?

Uber is pursuing the same angle of attack in Queensland, saying that if the Premier does suspend the service's operation in the state, thousands of jobs will be put at risk. Uber revealed in the paper that it has over 9000 (!!!) ride-sharing drivers registered to work on Australia's roads, and that a significant number of them come from Queensland.

"Since launch more than 100,000 Queenslanders have chosen ridesharing as their preferred way to get around Brisbane and the Gold Coast and this number is growing every day. Every week more than 2000 Queenslanders are now taking advantage of the economic opportunities of being an Uber partner. We have committed to creating 4000 new jobs in Queensland in 2015 alone if Government works with us on finding an appropriate regulatory solution," it wrote in the submission.

Uber argues that Queensland's excessive regulation of the industry will cause the state's economy harm.

At 6.7 per cent, Queensland's unemployment rate is above the national average of 6.1 per cent, while underemployment is higher at 9 per cent. Underemployment for women is worse in the state at 11.5 per cent. Uber says that 10 per cent of its Brisbane-based "driver partners" and 14 per cent of Gold Coast partners are women, making it a boon for female participation in a new workforce.

Furthermore, Uber notes that it's sourcing drivers from areas in Queensland where unemployment levels are at their worst. 52 per cent of driver partners come from electorates in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Uber wrote in an apparent bid to appeal to job-loving MPs.

Image: Uber

The report adds that Uber isn't using state infrastructure like taxi ranks, traditional meters or dispatch systems, and as a result isn't taking anything away from the local industry. That's a bit of a stretch when you consider that Uber is taking the local industry's most important resource: its customers, but anyway.

It goes on to argue that the people actually driving the state's cabs on the roads love Uber, as it "gives them better options".

"There is a distinct and real difference between the services facilitated by Uber and taxis. Taxis will always have be part of the transport mix of the Queensland but there is also room for a different service like ridesharing."

The report implies a connection between taxi dispatch companies taking a large cut of traditional taxi fares and the fact that taxi drivers earn less than the minimum wage, according to 2009-10 figures Uber includes in its report.

"Average taxi wages in Queensland are extremely low with many drivers forced onto welfare to supplement their incomes, owing to the way the industry structure precludes them from wealth creation opportunities."

"The Government, by not moving swiftly to introduce reform appears willing to protect a system that pays workers well under the minimum wage. Preserving a system where the inflation of the artificial value of the taxi plate investments is the outcome, to the detriment of working people and consumers is not good public policy," Uber wrote.

The thrust of the argument is to show that Uber is creating "new" jobs while also enhancing the lives of taxi drivers by giving them more cash than their traditional operators would.

As we noted back in February, the jobs Uber is talking about creating aren’t jobs in the traditional sense. They’re so-called “new economy jobs” where benefits include flexible working hours, new opportunities in new industries and greater freedom through the use of technology.

New economy jobs are gold for a nation looking for smarter jobs at the end of an old-fashioned resources boom, which may be why the Treasurer has taken the opportunity to talk them up to his analogue counterparts and in turn, the nation, but it's a stretch to argue that they're full-time equivalent positions.

By The Numbers

Uber argues in its submission that public satisfaction with taxi service in the state continues to wane, and giving riders access to different transport options is only in the best interests of customers and local competition.

"The lack of any real competition in Queensland’s major point-to-point transport market has left the industry stagnant, and not serving the interests of consumers. The lack of competition has resulted in Queenslanders being forced to accept poor service without any prospect of relief."

"The [Department of Transport and Main Roads'] own performance standards suggest that taxis have the lowest customer satisfaction rating among all public transport modes. This is not surprising given the lack of competitive pressure and the protection that the networks receive."

It pointed at current wait times for customers who ordered a cab in Queensland, and found that Uber riders are picked up within three minutes and eight seconds of asking for a ride, while traditional dispatch systems leave customers waiting for nine minutes and 24 seconds.

UberX prices are also lower than those of its cab competitors.

Image: Uber

Image: Uber

Uber also states that it's improving transportation in regional, tourist-rich areas that are currently underserved by public transport and cab services — like the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. Uber said that it could bring the benefit of transport to Queensland's regional communities in the same way Mornington has benefited down south:

In 2014-15 over the summer period Uber launched a pop up ridesharing service in the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria Australia.
The population of the Mornington Peninsula is usually around 154,000 residents but over the summer period can swell to a population size of 250,000. The area is only served by 96 taxis and limited public transport. This makes meeting the needs of the tourist population a difficult task.
Uber’s pop up over the summer months added an additional 50 vehicles on the road, providing rides to more than 20,000 people.
The addition of ridesharing on the Mornington Peninsula helped inject income into the local economy through both our riders and driver-partners. Local tourism and hospitality businesses received a significant benefit with more locals and tourists taking advantage of the ability to get a safe ride home without the need to worry about how to get home. Local pubs and restaurants reported increased trade and turnover. For example Uber assisted more than 1000 people to get home from the iconic Portsea Hotel.

Uphill Battle

Since the introduction of Uber in Queensland last year, the ride-sharing service has experienced more than a few regulatory problems. One of the major battle grounds is over access to the regulator's driver authorisation system.

All of Uber's drivers in Queensland hold state-issued Driver Accreditations. These Driver Accreditations are managed by the Department of Transport and Main Roads. That department signs-off on background and criminal history checks for drivers before they're allowed on the road.

Transport management companies like the local taxi duopoly as well as new competitors like GoCatch have access to a system they can use to double-check these Driver Accreditations to make sure drivers are still current. This system is called the Passenger Transport Driver Authorisation System or PTDAS.

But despite its competitors having access to the system, the Department of Transport and Main Roads continues to block Uber's access to the PTDAS, citing several different reasons. The first reason given to Uber was privacy concerns; the second was because Uber didn't fit into the Department's definition of a legal operator. Whatever the reason, it's a move Uber calls "out of synch with the rules and regulations around access" to the PTDAS.

"It is astounding, given that the DMTR continues to deny Uber access to the PTDAS that it could make this claim: 'public safety is the primary concern and there are no restrictions on who can apply to have access to PTDAS.'"

"Given the DTMR’s publicly stated and consistently reiterated position that public safety is the primary concern and its willingness to allow other mobile platforms access to the PTDAS, then it should provide Uber with access to the PTDAS so it is able to undertake the daily checks of the currency of the driver authorisations of its partners," it wrote.

Uber Queensland's GM, Michael Abbott, told us in an interview today that if the Department of Transport and Main Roads wanted to give access to Uber, "it could be sorted out within 20 minutes, that's how simple it is".

He added that access to the system would improve safety and allow Uber to ensure the ongoing currency of the documentation.


In a clever turn of phrase, Uber actually argues that it's doing the State Government's work for it by running a ride-sharing service in the Sunshine State.

Policy documents released by the Queensland State Government as far back as 2005 advocate the use of ride-sharing for people looking to get to work.

Uber said it was a bold idea that it's now making a reality despite resistance from regulators:

"The Uber app has just taken what the Government previously advocated and made it a viable reality."

"At a policy level governments like to encourage the better utilisation of vehicles, reductions in traffic and congestion and the environmental and economic benefits of ridesharing. However in practice, the regulatory enforcement arms of governments appear distant from the policy objectives and are unwilling to embrace change."

Uber goes one step further, however, and says that the regulator has sour grapes because the ride-sharing start-up out of San Francisco is implementing Government policy better than the Government ever could:

Uber believes it is hypocritical for DTMR to seek to penalise one platform simply because it was more successful in achieving a policy outcome than the Government’s own implementation.
In today’s modern world the way the Uber app works is no different to a person advertising on a notice board or a database in their office to car-pool or share with a colleague in return for payment. The Government was more than willing to promote this and advocate for it at the time.
Why would method of connection between individuals be considered legal and be encouraged by governments, but another be considered as outside of the law because it occurs via technology?

The Future

After all the regulator bashing and he-said/she-said, however, the submission makes suggestions as to how the ride-sharing service can be better integrated into Queensland's transportation system.

Uber wants to expand ride-sharing in Queensland and ultimately open its UberPOOL feature to the local market. UberPOOL is a service that lets Uber customers become passengers in the same car. Two people are both in Sydney’s CBD, for example, and need to get to the airport. Both would flag that on UberPOOL and jump in the one car together to get to their destination.

Uber also said that the state has an imperative to improve its transport alternatives given the impending arrival of the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

"Queensland is preparing to host the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018 and there will be a severe transport shortage. The Gold Coast only has one taxi network and only 357 Taxis. There will be a shortage of taxi services and the Government and municipal authorities and the games organisers will need to consider alternative solutions that deliver appropriate services, without increasing the cost to the taxpayer - Uber can be this solution."

"Imagine 2000 additional vehicles travelling to the Gold Coast every day to transport athletes, officials, spectators and tourist at no cost to the taxpayer and providing an increase in employment," it wrote, adding that the State Government could save buckets of cash hiring private vehicle partners to shuttle athletes, minders and other VIPs around.

To facilitate these lofty goals, Uber has four "recommendations" in its submission to the government:

1. The Government enter into meaningful conversations about reform and recognise ridesharing as a new and distinct form of point-to-point transport that requires a new regulatory approach. 2. The Government enter into discussions with Uber to develop a set of sensible, safety- based regulations. 3. A Transport Network Company regulatory framework is considered that will allow the DTMR to regulate and license both the driver-partners and the platform. 4. The Queensland Government should follow other States and reduce the Cabcharge surcharge without further delay.

Uber summed up its report by saying that the Queensland Government has the opportunity to "lead the nation" by legalising Uber, allowing the service to create jobs and income for Queenslanders in the process.

The ball is in Queensland's court now.

We reached out to the Taxi Council of Queensland for a statement on the Uber report, but it hadn't returned our call at the time of writing.

Are you buying what Uber is selling here? Should it be legalised and allowed to expand in Australia? Tell us in the comments.

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