More charges have been laid against some 19 Perth drivers of the ride-sharing app Uber after they ignored orders to produce appropriate documents to show they could operate.
The Department of Transport confirmed to Fairfax Media on Monday that a further 19 prosecutions had been issued to motorists on May 6 – for allegedly “failing to comply with a lawful direction of an authorised officer”.
The Uber drivers’ actions are alleged to be in breach of the Taxi Act 1994.
“These prosecutions are a result of previously issued notices to produce orders,” a department spokeswoman said.
“As these matters are now before the courts, [the department] is not able to provide further comment.”
The Google-backed driver hire service burst onto the Perth market in May last year and appeared to catch the state government off guard.
At the time, Transport Minister Dean Nalder expressed his surprise about news of their launch in WA.
The smartphone app launched in Australia, first in Sydney in 2012, followed closely by Melbourne and Brisbane, as an alternative to the conventional taxi service.
Its appearance brought an instant reaction from state taxi companies, which responded with anti-Uber campaigns and industrial strike action.
In April, Perth taxi drivers took to the streets with hundreds of vehicles leading a convoy from the Perth Airport to Parliament to protest against the ride sharing service.
Several present at the protest told Fairfax Media their incomes had dropped by about 30 per cent and they were struggling to feed their families.
“There is a lot of anger out there and a lot of anxiety because this has taken quite a while and I think everybody would agree with that,” Taxi Industry Forum of WA chief executive Howard Lance told Radio 6PR.
“I have to confess that we were getting rather concerned, but our patience is being rewarded.
“We have been constantly telling our members that stuff has being done and I think they sort of felt it was going on ad nauseam, but we were quite pleased to hear this news yesterday.
“I’ve put it up on our Facebook page yesterday, I’ve spread the word amongst the drivers – generally it’s been well received. You get those who say it’s not enough, but it’s a very good start … 19 drivers, that’s not messing around.
“These people have been running throughout the world and the department here in WA wanted to get it right, so they took the time in a measured way.”
He said he believed the Uber drivers charged had been unable to produce appropriate records for department officials.
“Our records are provided for in our system … that’s one of the functions of a taxi dispatch service, and this mob won’t comply with those things because they don’t seem to think the law applies to them,” he said.
“My understanding is that – and I’ve heard this anecdotally – that they consider this serious enough to fly over one of their lawyers from the east.”
He said TIFWA had not been behind public taxi protests but had lobbied the Department of Transport for 12 months to act on Uber’s illegal operations.
An Uber spokeswoman provided a statement in response to the news of the 19 drivers being charged.
She did not respond to questions about if Uber planned to pay their drivers’ fines if they were prosecuted, or whether Uber had flown in a lawyer to contest the cases.
“We don’t believe anyone should be penalised for providing safe reliable rides in their own city,” she said.
“It is disappointing that the government decided to target everyday Perthians [sic] who are trying to earn additional income at a time when prices are going up for families everywhere.
“Uber has created over 1000 new jobs in Perth since July last year and opened up a safe and affordable transport option for tens of thousands of riders.”
Mr Lance estimated there were about 5000-6000 professional taxi drivers in Perth.
Source; WA Today