Anti-UberX campaigner hit with legal action over driver arrests

After making a number of citizen's arrests of UberX drivers in an ongoing campaign against the ride-sharing service, a former British cop now faces a NSW Supreme Court order to back off.

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An anti-Uber campaigner has been hit with a NSW Supreme Court order preventing him from making citizen's arrests of UberX drivers, temporarily stimieing his extended battle against the ride-sharing service.

The court action has given Uber a temporary reprieve from the efforts of the lone anti-Uber campaigner, but the company may also soon be in a better position with regulators as well after the NSW Government committed to a review of ride-sharing services such as those offered by Uber.

While Uber has met with protests from taxi drivers and faced legal stoushes with transport authorities around the world, locking horns with regulators in places as far apart as Portland and Germany, this kind of vigilante-style justice is relatively unheard of.

The man behind the campaign of citizen's arrests, Russell Howarth, documents seven separate arrests he has made since October 2014 on his Arresting Uber website. A self-identified "established Sydney Hire Car driver with over 10 years experience," Howarth also claims on his website to be an ex-London police officer and lists himself as a "corporate war consultant" on his LinkedIn profile. He says he was the one to make "Australia's first stand" against Uber, claiming its UberX ride-sharing service is "unlicensed [and] illegal."

However, Howarth has now been hit with legal action by the company for his troubles. Uber yesterday filed a summons in the NSW Supreme Court with presiding judge Justice Brereton ordering Howarth "be restrained from...arresting, attempting to arrest or threatening to arrest users of the Uber software application or officers of [Uber]."

If Howarth breaks the court order, he faces "sequestration of property" or imprisonment, but the restraint is only in place until July 3 when the two parties will be back in court for a further hearing.

The order has no effect on Howarth's Arresting Uber website which labels the service as "Uninsured, unlicensed, un-Australian...[and] unlawful" and makes a number of claims about Uber "price gouging" through its surge pricing model and employing "sketchy" insurance policies.

Uber would not comment on the specifics of the case or on Russell Howarth's actions, with the company issuing a statement saying, "Since this is an active legal matter, it is not appropriate for us to comment further at this time."

However, Uber says all its drivers are required to undergo thorough criminal and driving history background checks through the Australian Federal Police and State transport departments and must be over 21 years of age. UberX trips are also covered by the company's US$5 million contingent liability cover as well as the driver's own insurance policy.

As for surge pricing, Uber explains its policy on its website, saying "Uber rates increase to ensure reliability when demand cannot be met by the number of drivers on the road."

The battle over the legality of UberX in Australia goes back more than a year, with NSW Transport (now Transport for NSW) saying in April 2014 that in that state. Despite this, the service has continued to operate across Australian capital cities.

The State Government later toughened its language, threatening legal action before calling the service "illegal" and taking UberX drivers to court.

However, last month NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley called for a review of ride-sharing services, saying "the Government is behind the times" on the issue. The NSW Government has since committed to reviewing the industry, yesterday announcing a taskforce to "examine the future sustainability" of taxis, hire cars and "ridesharing apps."

NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said the industry was "changing rapidly" and that Australia was not alone with cities around the world "grappling with...the introduction of new unregulated ridesharing apps."

Uber welcomed the review saying it was "a victory for competition, consumers and choice" and "a recognition of the overwhelming popular support for ridesharing."

CNET has contacted Russell Howarth for comment.

Updated at 5:05 p.m. AEST: Included further details from Russell Howarth's website.