UberX, the ride-sharing arm of the Uber taxi and hire care service, has been given the go-ahead to operate legally in the NSW. "We're legalising Uber," said NSW Premier Mike Baird in a post to his Facebook page.
Rumours that the Baird Government was planning to give UberX the green light first arose back in November, with the Premier at the time saying that the reports had "jumped the gun."
Taxi services around Australia had clashed with ride-sharing services, specifically UberX, calling the service illegal and questioning the safety of ride-sharing. Earlier this year the NSW Road and Maritime Services issued 40 license suspensions to UberX drivers.
Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory had previously become the first capital city in the world to formally open its roads to ride-sharing when it changed its transport rules to prepare for the UberX service before it launched.
The changes to the NSW regulatory framework will allow rideshare drivers to operate provided they obtain a hire car driver authorisation and have a business registration for their car. Only traditional taxi drivers can be hailed from the street or via a cab rank -- ridesharing will be limited to booked trips with a record of the transportation.
Ride-sharing drivers will pay a registration fee and be subject to comprehensive background and criminal checks. Roughly 5,500 UberX drivers already operate in Sydney, with Uber saying that over half a million people have travelled using the service.
The legal changes come with AU$250 million in compensation for the taxi council, which the NSW government is terming a "industry adjustment assistance package." This will include:
- A payment to perpetual taxi license holders of AU$20,000 per licence, for up to two licences provided that licenses were obtained before July 1, 2015.
- Up to AU$142 million for taxi licensees "facing hardship as a result of the changes."
- A buyback scheme for perpetual hire car licences reflecting that "these licences will have little or no value going forward".
Over 50 pieces of regulation are being removed as part of the changes, which the Government says will save AU$30 million per year by 2019. At the same time a new transport regulatory and penalty scheme will be created, the "toughest regulator the NSW transport industry has ever had" apparently.
Fares for all booked services, including taxis, will now be unregulated, meaning companies can set their own fares and passengers will need to agree on the costs before a booking is confirmed.
David Rohrsheim, general manager of Uber ANZ, said that the changes would help "make Sydney a more economically vibrant, better connected and more sustainable city".