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Uber defies Government warnings, launches ridesharing to public

Despite warnings, Uber has opened its ridesharing service to the public and gone on a marketing offensive offering free rides from Kings Cross.

Despite a carefully worded statement from Transport for NSW warning about the legality of ridesharing, Uber has made UberX ridesharing available to all its members.

Uber Sydney brings ridesharing to all. (Credit: Uber)

The move comes following several weeks of trials for the service, which allows members of the public to act as low-cost taxi drivers for anyone who needs a ride in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane (though, for legal reasons, Uber never calls itself a taxi service). While the Uber app is free to download for anyone with a smartphone and a credit or debit card, Uber originally only opened UberX to a small number of app users.

Even though it was open to a select few, Uber ridesharing quickly caused a controversy, with the NSW transport department issuing a statement saying the law on ridesharing "is clear and has not changed".

While Transport for NSW for did not go as far as mentioning Uber by name or declaring it illegal, it did say that those found breaching NSW's Passenger Transport Act could face prosecution and fines of up to $110,000.

"If a NSW driver is taking paying members of the public as passengers, the driver and the vehicle must operate in accordance with the Passenger Transport Act," said a Transport for NSW spokesperson.

"Under the Act, such services must be provided in a licensed taxi or hire car, by an appropriately accredited driver, authorised by Roads and Maritime Services (RMS)".

But shortly after this salvo from the State Government, Uber issued a bullish tweet declaring that ridesharing would continue:

It later followed this with another tweet promising free UberX rides to Sydneysiders during the Sydney CBD pub and club lockouts (recently introduced by the NSW State Government):

Upon opening the app on their phone, Uber app users in Sydney are now also greeted with a message declaring, "Sydney has spoken. You wanted safe rides at below-taxi rates. UberX has arrived."

On its Sydney blog, Uber compared features of its ridesharing service ("Request your uberX ride from your phone inside the bar...Share your journey home in real-time with loved ones with an SMS") with its assessment of the service offered by a "regular old taxi":

Wait on the street, with no option to return to a bar. Hope that there are a few taxis not returning to base for changeover. Wave your arm about until a taxi chooses your fare. Remain anonymous – your taxi driver has no idea who you are. You and your driver trust that the taxi has been properly maintained by an owner who may never ride in the vehicle. Know that $9 of a typical $25 fare is kept by the taxi owner and not your driver...Plus an additional 10% to CabCharge if you didn’t have cash on hand.

CNET has contacted Uber Sydney for comment on its ridesharing service.