CONTROVERSIAL ride-sharing business Uber launched its uberX service across Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula late last month despite operating illegally in Victoria.
Uber’s online system allows travellers to request a car ride via its mobile phone app to any destination covered by the company’s business.
The US based firm, estimated to be worth at least $40 billion by market analysts, recruits drivers who use their own vehicles to ferry passengers. Payment for a trip is made online meaning no cash changes hands.
Uber takes a commission on all journeys and pays the remainder of the fare to its drivers.
Uber’s uberX service is a threat to the taxi industry’s business model and is deemed illegal by Victorian regulators.
Drivers risk a fine of up to $1700 if caught by transport inspectors representing Uber. The company is backed by major corporations including Google and investment bank Goldman Sachs and is reportedly paying drivers’ fines.
Despite its unregulated status, Uber has opened offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Uber announced last month that Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula have been added to the 250-plus cities around the world where the ride-sharing service is available.
Online advertising over the Christmas and New Year break spruiked Uber being “everywhere this summer… all the way to Sorrento and Portsea”.
A fleet of six minis offered free Uber rides to passengers over the Christmas and New Year break to encourage people to try out the service.
Uber claims it is trying to work with authorities to effectively legalise its uberX business in Australia.
Uber spokesman Mike Abbott told the ABC’s 7.30 program last week: “We are calling for them [regulators] to remove the ambiguity and to put in place sensible safety-based legislation for ride-sharing which is pro-consumer and is not about protecting incumbents from competition”.
The company’s driver vetting policy has come under scrutiny after an Uber driver was arrested for an alleged assault on a 19-year-old passenger on New Year’s Day in Melbourne.
Uber did not reply to questions about its Frankston and Mornington Peninsula service before publication.
In November last year Uber senior vice president of business Emil Michael said the company would “dig up dirt” on journalists who criticised Uber. CEO Travis Kalanick apologised for the remark made at a dinner party.
Frankston Taxis general manager Kevin Dunn noted the state government is investigating ways for Uber to conform to industry-standard regulations.
“In this day and age you expect competition but the competition needs to be on a level playing field and currently with Uber it’s not,” he said.
The Frankston taxi company has recently released an iPhone app so customers can book taxi trips online.
An Android smartphone version will be available soon.