Daniel Lynch

Digital business journalist for nzherald.co.nz

Uber car service app revs up for NZ launch

Taxis lined up on Federal Street by Sky City Casino. Car request company Uber is set to launch its app in Auckland and could shake up the taxi industry. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Taxis lined up on Federal Street by Sky City Casino. Car request company Uber is set to launch its app in Auckland and could shake up the taxi industry. Photo / Steven McNicholl

On-demand car request service firm Uber is looking to expand into Auckland and could give taxi companies a run for their - and your money.

As part of the push into Asia Pacific, Uber said last week it is on the hunt for three staff to bring its business to Auckland.

And the New Zealand Taxi Federation has already its expressed concerns around this new method of hiring a taxi.

The San Fransisco-based company's mobile app connects passengers with available drivers in their area, and customers can track their reserved car's location as it makes its way to the pick-up point.

Uber's pricing is similar to metered taxis, but all hiring and payment is handled through Uber and not with the driver personally. At the end of a ride, the complete fare is billed to the customer's credit card.

The drivers and riders rate each other after each trip, improving the experience for both the driver and the rider.

Overseas evidence suggests an Auckland-based Uber franchise could create friction with established taxi companies. Uber has been accused in several North American cities of running an illegal taxi operation that flouts industry regulations.

Screenshots of the Uber car request service app
Screenshots of the Uber car request service app

Last month, taxi cab drivers in Paris attacked an Uber driver's car protesting competition from the transportation startup.

Late last year, more than 100 taxi drivers at Auckland Airport went on a hunger strike when their demands for easier access to customers, including the raising of the minimum fare from $20 to $35 were declined by the airport.

NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said there were many requirements that must be met for establishing a company as an 'Approved Taxi Organisation' such as clearly displaying fares and driver identification, using a tested fare meter and having an in-vehicle security camera system installed.

"If Uber did not establish themselves as an ATO, they would rely on existing ATOs and their drivers integrating or using their system," Knackstedt said.

Since launching in 2009, Uber now operates in more than 70 cities around the world, including expanding into seven new cities in the past two months.

Screenshots of the Uber car request service app
Screenshots of the Uber car request service app

University of Canterbury senior lecturer in economics and transport commentator, Eric Crampton said Uber may be able to side-step taxi industry regulations by hiring drivers with a P endorsed drivers' license and using unmarked vehicles to operate as a 'private hire service'.

"Current cabbies could flip to Uber in their own cars, retired cabbies who still have the P endorsement could start up again, and others willing to sit the test could come into the market," Crampton said in his blog.

The New Zealand Taxi Federation has voiced safety concerns about the growth of app-based taxi booking systems becoming available around the country.

Other transport apps to launch in New Zealand recently are Zoomy, in use by taxi organisations, and Cab Chooze, along with other apps developed for taxi companies.

In a letter to the NZTA, Taxi Federation executive director Tim Reddish called for the apps to be shut down until the companies prove their drivers are properly licensed and operating under the control of approved ATO's.

"In our view any app-based taxi service delivery system must also ensure that customers are protected from unlicensed drivers and untested as fit for purpose vehicles," Reddish said.

NZTA's Knackstedt said that while Uber had yet to enter the market, Zoomy - a similar app based dispatch system - had engaged with the agency to ensure their service is compliant with licensing rules.

Uber says that they are still setting up the business in Auckland.

"We always partner with the best drivers in a city, and constantly monitor this through passenger ratings at the end of every ride," Uber's Sydney general manager David Rohrsheim said.

- NZ Herald

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