Uber Eats has begun selling alcohol on its delivery platform, but is exempt from needing a liquor licence to do so - drawing fire from a competitor.
In just two days of being able to buy alcohol on the platform in Auckland between the hours of 10am and 10.30pm, the San Francisco ridesharing giant has already faced stern criticism.
Māori public health organisation Hāpai te Hauora has called the move to allow on-demand alcohol delivery as irresponsible and "out-of-touch from the realities of alcohol harm".
Rotorua local and business owner Ankush Konde, founder of similar food delivery platform Deliver Eats, operating in Rotorua, Hamilton and Taupō, has branded the move as unfair.
Uber plans to turn on the alcohol delivery function in its app in Christchurch and Wellington in coming weeks.
Konde has been trying to switch on alcohol delivery through his own platform since October, but has faced various red tape from Christchurch and Wellington councils in his attempts to secure a liquor licence to be able to do. His business launched in May 2019.
A liquor licence pursuant to the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 is required by anyone selling or supplying alcohol to the public.
But Konde questions why Uber is exempt from the rules and not required to hold a liquor licence if it is making money and facilitating the sale of alcohol through its platform.
He said he has been told by various councils that his same operations required a liquor licence to operate legally.
"I'm not against Uber, my question is; if Uber doesn't need a licence then why do I need a licence?"
While Uber is technically not supplying the alcohol directly, as this is coming from its retail partners, the US company takes a cut of sales made from that purchase - the money paid by the customer is received by Uber and then earnings are transferred, minus its deduction, to the business on a weekly basis.
Konde said he was told by a council adviser that Uber was exempt from needing a licence as it was acting as a courier, but he disputed this reasoning and said a courier simply facilitated delivery of orders purchased through a separate company.
"According to law, money should straight away go to [the liquor company], the money should not go to Uber, if money is going to Uber then Uber should not make any profit from the sales and supply if they are acting as a courier."
After inquiries to both Auckland Council and the Police, it turns out what Uber is doing is perfectly legal - and there are no concerns over its profit making and movement of alcohol.
A spokesperson from Auckland Council's licensing team said Uber does not need a liquor licence as it delivers from premises which hold their own off-licence.
"The seller of the alcohol requires the licence, and in this case the seller remains the liquor store, not Uber Eats. We have looked into this issue and so far we have established there is nothing unlawful about this arrangement."
Konde urged councils to look beyond the surface to understand where profits were going.
It poses the question that if Uber is acting as a courier service, then why does it charge 20-30 per cent commission on each sale, in addition to a delivery fee paid by the customer.
Uber Eats first launched in New Zealand four years ago and has grown to become hugely popular with millennials.
Since Tuesday, Aucklanders have been able to place an alcohol order from a selection of 30 liquor stores on the app.
The ridesharing giant says it takes the sale of alcohol "seriously" and has implemented a number of safety measures in its app to "help support delivery people in checking an individual's age and sobriety after a delivery person opts in to deliver alcohol".
"The safety and wellbeing of everyone that uses the Uber Eats app is always our priority, so we're working with experts to help ensure responsible alcohol consumption is at the heart of this feature," said a spokesperson for Uber.
Measures it has built into its app include age verification processes and ID scanning technology, which requires drivers to scan a customer's ID using the Uber Driver app to verify their age before each delivery.
If the driver observes that the customer is intoxicated, or if the customer is unable to present an approved evidence of age document, they are required to return the alcohol to the store.
Police inspector Brent Register said if a sale of alcohol was completed with the licensee, and the company such as Uber simply facilitated and delivered the order, no liquor licence was legally required by the company.
He said a number of licensees including bottle stores and restaurants advertised their products for sale through online platforms, or third-party agents, such as Uber.