In a sudden crackdown on ride sharing services like UberX, Roads and Maritime Services NSW announced on Sunday that it has issued 40 suspension notices to owners of vehicles found to be involved. Any suspended vehicle found on the road after October 1st will be considered unregistered and fined accordingly. This comes after a Choice report revealed that Uber equalled taxis in passenger safety, and outperformed them on reliability and price. Uber is already seeking ways to overturn the decision, while motoring groups like the NRMA have also questioned the decision made by the RMS.
“The suspension notices have been issued to registered owners of vehicles found to be operating a privately registered vehicle for business purposes," said Roads and Maritime Director of Safety and Compliance, Peter Wells, although Roads and Maritime did not specify how exactly it would be tracking the offending drivers. It is also unclear why RMS has only just started cracking down on this issue if ridesharing services like UberX have always been illegal by Australian law.
These suspensions come after an earlier move by the RMS in July, when it announced that it would be ramping up 'compliance operations' towards what it defines as 'illegal ride sharing activity'. Legal actions taken against Uber drivers have not been successful in the past, however. Earlier this year in California, the Department of Motor Vehicles similarly decided that Uber drivers would be required to have commercial plates for their vehicles, but backedtracked on the ruling not long after it was enacted. Back in NSW, a Magistrate at the Downing Centre Local Court recently ruling that the RMS did not have the authority to prosecute under the Passenger Transport act. "These latest actions appear to be the RMS' way of trying to get around that court ruling without any due process being given to the affected drivers," said Uber in a response to this news.
“Taxis are complying with excessive regulation, while ride-sharing networks are not. Ride-sharing has proven that it is currently more cost effective to operate illegally than to comply with state regulation," said Stuart Overell of Combined Communications Network, Australia's largest taxi network. “For ride-sharing businesses to say they offer different services and target different market segments from taxis is an attempt to evade fair regulation. Our services are in direct competition and both provide the same thing – point-to-point passenger services.”
The NSW Government is currently looking into a permanent solution to the ride sharing question, with an independent taskforce to report back to the NSW Government in October. This only makes the timing of RMS' crackdown even more baffling. NRMA Insurance's Mariana Cidade told the ABC today that she thought the Government would wait for the results from the taskforce before making a move on Uber drivers. "So currently there is a review of point-to-point ride sharing in NSW and we were surprised that Roads and Maritime took this action before the taskforce provided its recommendation to the Government," she said.
Uber has reinforced its commitment to providing a competitive, quality service to commuters across Australia, and will not be going down without a fight. "We are shocked that the Roads & Maritime Services did not appear to show these drivers any due process and we are reviewing the legal options to reverse this decision," said Uber's spokesperson. "The people of Sydney are choosing Uber in their hundreds of thousands and we look forward to seeing the Government recognise this by putting sensible ridesharing regulations in place as quickly as possible."