An Uber driver who came to the rescue of a US couple by driving them nine hours to an important meeting, says he could lose his job and have to leave the country.
Harpal Kang was nearing the end of his shift when the American couple asked him to drive them 650km from Auckland to Wellington, for an important business meeting which they were in danger of missing.
The couple had planned to fly down to Wellington but arrived in the middle of Cyclone Debbie, and were unable to find any flights, buses, or taxis to take them.
Kang agreed to take them on the $1033 trip, getting them to Wellington 30 minutes before the meeting started.
The couple contacted the Herald to publicly thank Kang.
But the article generated a storm of controversy about whether he'd driven more than the legally allowed hours. Today he was contacted by the NZTA, and was required to bring in his logbooks to be checked.
Kang told the NZTA he'd taken two breaks on the drive down, but he said he was still in trouble because his total working hours reached 16.5.
Drivers are only allowed to work for a total of 13 hours in a stretch.
He said the NZTA would decide in the next two weeks whether to issue a fine, or take him to court. If they went for court action, he said he'd leave New Zealand to return to India.
He has been in New Zealand for six years, and leaving would mean leaving behind his wife, who is studying to become a nurse.
"I told them, I'm not going to court again. I've already been to court one time, and it wasn't a good experience for me."
Last year, in his third week as an Uber driver, he faced court action because of a different problem with his logbook.
Kang said his problems were being caused by system problems in the Uber app, that left him vulnerable as a driver.
"(If NZTA decides on) a fine, I will ask Uber to pay, I'll say to them why did you send me this job.
"The application doesn't go offline after a driver finishes his hours.
"In the normal taxi industry a driver goes offline, after 13 hours you're done with that.
"The Uber application runs for 24 hours. That's the bad thing about the application."
Kang said when he picked the couple up, he did not know they were trying to get to Wellington. But when they asked, he felt he couldn't say no.
"I didn't do it for money, I just helped them out of the kindness of my heart."
He said he was not putting other people at risk on the roads that day and was confident he could make the trip safely.
The NZTA is now investigating.
A spokesperson said several complaints were laid about Kang after news of his long drive was made public.
"As a safety regulator the NZ Transport Agency takes its obligations to ensure that anyone carrying passengers for a living is not putting the public at risk.
"We don't condone drivers exceeding the permitted working hours or failing to take required breaks."
Blue Bubble Taxis chief executive Bob Wilkinson was one person who made a complaint.
"I am appalled that both the driver and the company that passed him the job would have done so knowing that his shift was about to end.
"Small Passenger Vehicle drivers can only work a maximum of 14 hours (with regulated breaks) in any 24-hour period," Wilkinson said.
"His work time would include his return trip to Auckland unless he took a minimum 10-hour break in Wellington rather than the 'nap' he said that he took.
"I shudder to think how long this driver had worked without a sufficient break and in contravention to the law.
"Not only would he have been fatigued but he was driving through the worst weather we have experienced for some time - a recipe for disaster.
"I also very much doubt that his passengers were unable to find a taxi that would take them to Wellington. However, they would have been quoted a fare that would have allowed a driver to do the job legally."
New Zealand Taxi Federation executive direction John Hart said the trip was "unacceptable".
"It's a question of safety.
"The law says that you need to have a break after seven hours, and if you're on a long distance job like that, it needs to be taken after five hours.
"NZTA has never hesitated to prosecute and impose very severe penalties on taxi companies and drivers who allow that to happen."
Hart said the couple might have had an important meeting to get to, "but there's the safety of the other people on the road to consider."
"If it's a road safety issue for taxis, surely it's a road safety issue for Uber."
What's the law for Uber?
The Government is currently considering changes under the Land Transport Amendment Act, that would amend driver regulations to make it easier for Uber to operate in New Zealand.
In the meantime, Uber drivers have been facing fines after the ride-sharing company announced its drivers didn't need NZ Passenger Endorsement certificates, as Uber did its own vetting. Drivers have claimed P endorsements were never mentioned as a possible issue when they signed up.
NZTA was asked if the rules on taxi driver hours and conditions also applied to Uber drivers. The Agency has not yet responded to the Herald.
Uber has been contacted to ask for clarification of their legal responsibilities.
A spokesman said "given the flexibility Uber provides, driver partners are free to take breaks whenever they choose and we encourage them to do just that whenever needed."
"The safety of our riders and driver-partners is a top priority, and we are clear in our community guidelines that if driver-partners are driving and feel tired, they should take a break. As the experts say, sleep is the only true preventative measure against the risks of drowsy driving."