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Taxi and Hire Vehicle Industries Amendment Bill No.4 of 2016 - Second Reading

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the Government and the taxi owners and drivers who took the time out to brief us on this bill. It was very good and very informative and cleared up many questions.

While several of the southern taxidrivers and owners had considerable concerns, I note the northern taxi group were quite resigned to the fact that Uber would operate in the state. They were accepting of the legislation though, in their words, with a heavy heart.

One thing that came through in all the briefings was that taxi owners and drivers wanted a fair playing field. While they may not have every amendment or regulation they want, the Government has tightened up the bill. It appears the Government has been working with the taxi industry and I am sure they will continue to assist them. I note that compensation will be provided in New South Wales as it will in Queensland. The Queensland Government stated that, to help the taxi industry, 80 pieces of red tape will be cut, on top of a $100 million assistance package - which includes over $4 million in taxi fees to be waived over the next 12 months. Perhaps the Leader could advise whether the Tasmanian Government is proposing anything similar to assist conventional taxi companies in Tasmania.

Tasmania must have available transport. Unfortunately, we do not have access to trams, trains or even good bus transport, which makes Uber quite desirable for our state.

Mr Dean - Metro might disagree with that.

Mrs Armitage - Metro might disagree but I could tell Metro many instances where there are, basically, no bus services at all. I would like them to send me a letter and disagree. Uber should be subject to appropriate regulation. I am advised that we have more rigorous regulations than some of the other states, including the fact Uber cannot operate from taxi ranks.

Uber could be seen as a real opportunity for people who need a second job, who are currently unemployed but have a reasonable car. A concern was raised in the briefings that drivers on their way to work might pick up a fare, thus avoiding the cost of going to work. I see this as entrepreneurial. We often hear about too many cars on the road. If people can have cheap access they will share an Uber to work, providing several benefits, including no parking fees.

Many people will continue to use conventional taxis, but I am sure Uber will be well patronised. I have received a large number of emails and calls from those supporting Uber, mainly from Tasmanians who have used Uber in other states. While many may have been a form email, I will read this one to you. Someone had written it, as opposed to sending the form email we have received hundreds of. It says -

Dear members of parliament,

I have used Uber in Sydney and in Canberra and have been so impressed by this efficient and friendly alternative to standard taxis, I really hope that Uber will become available very soon in Tasmania. It will provide much-needed employment opportunities for people and give healthy competition to the transport industry, as well as giving the public freedom of choice and more competitive fares. I want more safe, reliable and affordable transport options, and I urge the government to open up Tasmania to ride sharing.

New South Wales and the ACT have already implemented sensible safety-based ride-sharing regulations. These regulations recognise that ride sharing is the use of someone's private car to provide safe, reliable and affordable rides in their local city. They mean all ride-sharing drivers have a driving history check, a criminal background check, appropriate private vehicle insurance and a vehicle inspection. They are sensible regulations and open up economic opportunities for drivers and improve transport choice for locals and visitors. It is time we do the same in Tasmania.

There are many benefits with Uber, including knowing the cost of the fare. Obviously it is necessary to ensure when you accept that you note whether it is one times the fare or several times the fare, depending on availability and the time of day or night, or whether it is a busy time such as New Year, which would attract a heavy toll.

I questioned Ben Brooks from Uber regarding whether cameras would be a requirement but was told because you know the driver and have their number, plus the driver knows who the passenger is, there really is not a need.

I am pleased to see there is also a rating for passengers as well as a rating for drivers.

Mrs Hiscutt - I had a five out of five.

Mrs Armitage - You were told you had a five out of five. Did you see it?

Mrs Hiscutt - Yes, I did.

Mrs Armitage - We are starting with Uber but there are many other types of car sharing operating around the world including Chariot and Mum's Taxi, plus Chariot for Women where there is a female passenger and a female driver. Once Uber starts in Tasmania we may get approaches from other car sharing.

I note the briefing from ParaQuad and their comment that as a public transport service they anticipate operators would be subject to both state and federal anti-discrimination laws as they advise there have been issues in Melbourne and Sydney where Uber drivers have refused access to people with disabilities. As they mentioned, people with mobility disability, in particular, rely on accessible public transport services and visitors to Tasmania who have a disability especially rely on those services.

This has been considered by Ben Brooks from Uber and they believe there are a number of under-utilised wheelchair accessible vehicles owned by families that possibly could tap into this market. I certainly hope this is investigated further as it really would be a win-win for people with a disability, or their families.

The fact Uber is cashless is an advantage. It takes away the risk of the driver being robbed by a fare as, first, they are known to Uber - unless of course they have found or stolen someone's phone, which is always a possibility - but, second, no cash is exchanged so the incentive to rob a driver really is not there. It is also an advantage for the driver as they are sure of being paid. It is one of the real risks for drivers, particularly late at night or early mornings, that the fare they are picking up might jump out of the cab and not pay. That they are paid by credit card and know they are going to get their 75 per cent is a real advantage.

I asked Mr Brooks from Uber about insurance, and the member for Hobart mentioned it regarding compulsory MAIB insurance. My concern was, if the driver happened to be over the 0.05 limit, how they would go regarding compulsory third party insurance? I have been advised that Uber does have compulsory insurance that does cover passengers. While the driver would not be covered, any passengers would be covered through the compulsory third party insurance as long as the car was registered and insured even if the driver actually was guilty of an offence of being over 0.05.

Mrs Hiscutt - What happens with taxidrivers who have had a drink or are under the influence and are working?

Mrs Armitage - Taxidrivers or any of those drivers are not allowed to have any alcohol at all.

Mrs Hiscutt - These people are not either.

Mr Dean - Zero tolerance.

Mrs Armitage - Zero tolerance? Yes.

Mrs Hiscutt - I would have thought this would be the same.

Mrs Armitage - I imagine it would be but I was saying if someone was sitting at home and there are no other Uber drivers around and they get a call, they may be tempted to get in their vehicle.

Mrs Hiscutt - They would have to register on.

Mrs Armitage - They do not have to blow to start the car. It is not like one of the -

Mrs Hiscutt - A taxidriver does not have to either.

Mrs Armitage - I appreciate that. I am saying it is to do with MAIB. I know that if you happen to be over the limit and the police pull you over, or you are in an accident and you are over the limit, then you do not have any compulsory third party insurance yourself. The question was about the clients, the passengers. I believe passengers are covered as long as the vehicle is insured. Ben Brooks also said they have overarching insurance through Uber.

Mr Valentine - The question was whether the passengers were covered. I believe passengers are covered even if the car is not insured. I have asked for clarification. A person who is walking up the footpath and is hit by a car is covered by MAIB regardless of whether the car is registered - or I might be wrong.

Mrs Armitage - I would have thought not, but I will leave that to the Leader to answer. If I was an insurance company I would expect that to be paid. There are always going to be a few concerns but in Tasmania, where public transport is quite poor, I hope that it does not just operate in Hobart. Some of the people who briefed us thought that was primarily where it would operate. There are other areas around the state that could do with Uber - Launceston and the north-west coast where unemployment is high as well. If you have a decent car and you are a young person, it would be a great opportunity, even for students.

Ms Forrest - There is a certain age limit in this whole process.

Mrs Armitage - Yes, there is but many students could be in their mid-twenties.

Mrs Hiscutt - You have to be 21.

Mrs Armitage - I mean university students who often work in hospitality but it might fit in much better with study if you are an Uber driver because you can choose your hours and choose your rides. I see many opportunities, not just for riders but also for drivers. I support the ride sharing and I look forward to the answers from the Leader.

[3.12 p.m.]

Mr Armstrong (Huon) - Mr President, Uber is coming if it is not already here. We have heard it is not but there might be some people posing as Uber drivers. I can understand the Government wanting to regulate Uber so that we do not have what happened in Queensland where I believe drivers were charged $30 000 because there was no legislation that covered them there. There is now - I believe it happened last week.

Most members have already spoken about the disability access with Uber. I agree that Uber should have to comply with every disability act, et cetera, so that it covers them.

One other member mentioned a huge fare increase in New South Wales, where the person involved said they then could not get in touch with Uber anywhere to raise it with them. When we were briefed by Ben Brooks he said that they could contact them through the internet or phone, was it? I am not too sure, but this person said that they could not contact them. That is an issue and we need to make sure they are contactable.

With Uber headquarters in San Francisco, it used to be that 20 per cent of the fees went back to them. Now it has been raised so that 25 per cent goes back. Will that increase to 30 per cent or 40 per cent later? I do not know. Another member also asked whether they pay tax on the 25 per cent that goes out of the country. They should.

We have heard from the taxidrivers. It was said that many of them earn $15 per hour, 10 per cent more on weekends with tariff 2, I think it was called, and they work up to 100 hours per week. It was stated that Hobart has one taxi to every 650 people; Sydney and Melbourne have one for every 1300. There are now 400 cabs in Tasmania; 10 years ago there were 200 cabs. I do not think our population has increased that much.

Taxis can sit on a taxi rank for 12 hours, day or night. When we have football or some other sporting event or something else in Hobart, that is when taxidrivers want to make their money. Uber comes in and operates in those peak times. I do not think you will see them late at night. They go home. They are picking the cream, I take it, from the taxidrivers.

I read from the Taxi Council what some of the comparative costs are -

  • taxi vehicles are mandated as to having to be five or less years old when purchased with the maximum operating life of eight years. The purchase price of a 2014 second-hand Toyota Camry Hybrid, approximately $50 000, would cost $21 000.

  • Uber vehicles in other states are required to be no more than 10 years old when purchased, have no limit on their operational lifespan. The purchase price of a 2005 second-hand Toyota Camry, petrol car, would be $4 500.

  • the comparison purchase costs for a vehicle are roughly $16 500 more for a taxi, compared to an Uber operator.

  • plate purchase costs for owner-operated taxi licences vary from $60 000 in Hobart to $35 000 in Launceston, $23 000 in Devonport and Burnie, and as low as $1000 in King Island or the west coast.

  • Uber drivers use their own vehicles and there is no plate purchase cost. The difference is a taxi operator has an extra cost of between $1000 and $60 000 compared to an Uber operator.

  • the taxi licence lease fee is $13 000. For Uber it is currently not required, so there is a $13 000 extra cost to taxis.

  • taxi camera - Tasmania compliant is $2350. Uber - not required.

  • the taxi meter - $250. Uber - not required.

  • the taxi hail light - $260. Uber - not required.

  • taxi EFTPOS terminal - no charge. It is owned by merchants. It is not required for Uber either.

  • a taxi computer dispatch unit - $2200, based on a SmartMove unit.

  • phone costs are around $800, although UberX is reported to offer phones free to their drivers. The taxi operator has between $1400 and $2200 extra costs.

  • accreditation and first aid - $650. Uber - not required.

  • equipment installed in vehicle - $1000. Currently not required for Uber.

  • renewal of public vehicle licence - $639. Uber - not required.

  • class 6 registration - $1387. Also, depending on the vehicle, private registration for Uber - $600.

  • comprehensive public vehicle insurance - $2700. Private third party insurance for Uber - $1000. It is also noted that Uber covers all UberX trips with commercial insurance for property damage and bodily injury to the value of $5 million.

  • a 10 000 km safety road check for taxis - $40 to $50, or $500 a year. Uber - not required.

  • over pit safety inspection - $192. Uber - not required.

  • accreditation audit - $200 every three years. Uber - not required.

  • workers compensation for drivers - $2500. Uber - not required.

  • radio subscription to the taxi network - $7800. Paid for by Uber, with a 20 percent share of fares, although that is 25 percent now.

  • taxi camera certification - $40. Uber - not required.

  • driver's cost to obtain a public vehicle licence to drive a taxi and taxi training costs - $5900.

  • literacy test - $30.

  • national police check - $45.

  • medical - $140, not covered by Medicare.

  • PCV (Passenger carrying vehicle) licence fee - $18.

  • uniform - $150.

  • secure change till - $10.

  • airport access to rank cards - $10.

  • working with vulnerable people and children card - $103, which covers three years.

The annual cost of the checks and inspections is $1096. None of those are required by Uber and there is a total of $15 320.66 that a taxi operator has to pay that Uber does not have to pay.

I am sure that you have all read Ross Butler's letter that we all received. He has raised many of the same things. As somebody stated, competition is good and I agree with that but it should be on an even playing field and this is certainly not an even playing field.

It is said to be reviewed in two years. The review should now probably go to a joint House committee so that all these issues can be sorted out.

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