Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Taxi or Uber? Confusion reigns as ridesharing company turns up at Parliament

Executives from ridesharing company Uber appeared at Parliament today.
Executives from ridesharing company Uber appeared at Parliament today.

Uber came to Parliament today hoping to win over MPs deciding what the future of the taxi industry will look like.

But the company's Australasian executives ran into some resistance from MPs who appeared to be struggling with the very concept of a disruptive ride-sharing business.

Appearing before Parliament's Transport Committee, Uber New Zealand general manager Richard Menzies tried to argue that the company should not have to adopt outdated taxi requirements like logbooks, signage and stringent driver and vehicle checks.

But first he was forced to explain to the committee, over and over again, that Uber was not a "rank and hail" taxi company.

National MP Alastair Scott was the first to bite.

"We're concerned that you could get some gypsy operators who are not licensed by anyone appearing on a taxi rank."

Labour MP Sue Moroney interjected, offering a more politically-correct term: "Cowboys".

"Cowboys, gypsies, whatever," Scott said.

Menzies politely explained that an Uber vehicle could only be ordered through its app.

"People can't simply spot at Uber and jump into a random car," he said.

Labour MP Sue Moroney wasn't convinced.

"How do you know that? How do you know that people who are your drivers are not sitting at taxi stands or being hailed?"

Menzies, looking slightly bemused, said: "We don't use taxi ranks."

Green MP Jan Logie noted that the law change would allow Uber to use taxi ranks - how did Uber feel about that?

Menzies, again: "The way our system is currently set up, we don't need taxi ranks."

At that point National backbencher Paul Foster-Bell appeared to sum up the situation: "Do you think Parliament should be grasping that this is a different paradigm we are talking about?"

Menzies began spelling out the benefits of the company. By putting more people in fewer cars, he said, Uber had reduced carbon emissions by 55 metric tonnes.

Moroney had more pressing concerns. Under the law changes, Uber cars would be able to use transit lanes on New Zealand motorways.

Wouldn't it be worth signing up as an Uber driver just to use transit lanes? she asked. And how could you tell whether it was an Uber car using a transit lane if it was unmarked?

For once, Menzies appeared to be caught off-guard. "I'm not 100 per cent familiar with all the details," he said.

As it was becoming apparent that no MP on the committee had ever used the Uber service, National MP and technophile Maurice Williamson piped up that he was a "massive fan".

But he did not favour the ordinary Uber, he said. He wanted to know when Uber New Zealand would roll out Uber Black - the company's VIP service.

By now, Uber's committee appearance had gone well overtime. But Moroney wanted one last shot, asking Uber whether it would actually follow any rules set by Parliament.

"All I want to hear is that you won't be breaking the law," she said.

Menzies raised his hands in front of his face, wordlessly, as the committee chairman brought the session to a close.

- NZ Herald

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