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​UberX drivers taken to court for "illegal" ride-sharing

The NSW Department of Transport is coming down hard on UberX, issuing a number of court attendance notices to drivers and upping the rhetoric by saying they're offering an "illegal" service.

Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET
Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

Ten UberX drivers have been issued with court attendance notices by the New South Wales Department of Transport for participating in what it says is an "illegal" ride-sharing service.

Transport for NSW, as the Department is now named, confirmed that Roads and Maritime Service have issued a total of 33 infringement notices to UberX drivers, totalling AU$28,500, since the ride-sharing service launched in the state. In addition, it has issued 10 court attendance notices to drivers.

The Department also warned that it would not be easing its crackdown on UberX, saying that "compliance activities will continue, to ensure the safety of passengers".

UberX allows passengers to avoid taxi fares and car hire by requesting a ride, via an app, from a member of the public. (UberX is different to Uber's other taxi hire and limousine hire services, which are legal under NSW law).

While Uber screens UberX drivers and requires criminal background checks, the service has come under fire from regulators and the taxi industry over safety concerns and a perception that Uber is undercutting official taxi services.

Although the Department of Transport has previously said "the law is clear" on ride-sharing, it has stopped short of saying the service, or its drivers, were breaking the law. However, the push towards court action marks the most decisive shift in the Department's rhetoric on ride-sharing, with Transport for NSW finally labelling ride-sharing as illegal.

According to a Transport for NSW spokesperson:

It is illegal for drivers in NSW to participate in 'ride-sharing' activities like UberX. While Uber Pty Ltd does not breach the Passenger Transport Act 1990 by offering the service, drivers transporting passengers for a fare do.

Any driver operating in these circumstances ispotentially committing a number of offences, including driving without authority and offering a service without accreditation.

While Uber is not breaking the law by spruiking UberX, and passengers who get into a ride-sharing vehicle are not breaking the law, UberX drivers are. But despite the fact that drivers are on the front line of enforcement activity facing fines and court action, Uber is still shouldering the burden for them.

Speaking to ABC's 7.30 program last week, one UberX drivers said the company was telling drivers to "keep operating" and that the company was "covering" fines for drivers.

It's not just New South Wales taking up the fight against ridesharing -- regulators are also attempting to clamp down on the service in Queensland, issuing upwards of AU$260,000 in fines to UberX drivers in that state.

However, the company has attempted to thwart this action by blocking the mobile phones of regulators to prevent them from requesting an UberX ride in order to fine the driver behind the wheel.