The New South Wales Roads & Maritime Services (RMS) has brought the hammer down on ride-sharing company Uber, handing down three-month licence suspensions for 40 participating UberX drivers.
RMS director of safety and compliance, Peter Wells, said that ride-sharing services are illegal and that the government is now taking action against drivers.
“The suspension notices have been issued to registered owners of vehicles found to be operating a privately registered vehicle for business purposes,” he said.
“Taxi and hire car services in NSW must be provided by an operator accredited by Roads and Maritime, in a licensed and insured vehicle which is driven by an authorised driver.”
The news follows protests and legal action in recent months from taxi and hire car companies, calling on state governments to enforce licence and registration requirements for UberX drivers.
Uber, as a company offering a virtual infrastructure through its mobile app and web interface, does not itself breach any laws in New South Wales, although drivers transporting passengers for a far through the UberX service do.
State governments around Australia have handed down millions of dollars in fines to participating drivers, but, in most cases, Uber has reimbursed penalties.
This week’s suspensions mark a significant change in the NSW government’s approach to dealing with drivers using the Uber service. And, unlike the earlier fines, Uber is largely powerless to help suspended drivers.
Interestingly, the suspensions come in the middle of a NSW government review into ‘point to point’ ride-sharing laws, taking local Uber representatives by surprise.
In a statement this week, Uber said that drivers are being denied due process as a result of the early action, which has come before the review taskforce is due to report its findings in October.
“We are shocked that the Roads and Maritime Services did not appear to show these drivers any due process and we are reviewing the legal options to reverse this decision,” the company said.
Speaking with ABC News, an Uber representative said that its acceptance among commuters shows the value of ride-sharing.
“The people of Sydney are choosing Uber in their hundreds of thousands and we look forward to seeing the Government recognise this by putting sensible ride-sharing regulations in place as quickly as possible," the spokesperson said.
Earlier this year, Uber director of public policy, Brad Kitschke, said that the company had welcomed the NSW government’s launch of a task force to review the ride-sharing model.
“The current state of regulation in New South Wales governing for-hire ground transportation applies only and explicitly to incumbent models. This provides them with significant advantages while prohibiting, undermining and penalising new entrants and new models, regardless of merit and proficiency with regards to safety, security, reliability and customer service,” he said.
The NSW Taxi Council has acknowledged the RMS action to suspend the licences of UberX drivers, although it claims it is not directly involved in any legal or industrial action on this specific matter - “however it reserves its position in this regard”.
“The NSW Taxi Council supports the NSW Government’s Point to Point Taskforce Review to establish a level playing field for point to point transport in NSW,” the statement reads.
“The NSW Taxi Council will continue working with all relevant stakeholders to achieve its objective of a strong, viable and customer-focussed taxi industry into the future.”