February 12, 2015

Queensland’s Taxi Council warns passengers risk their own safety through “unlawful, unsafe and uninsured” ridesharing and advertises as much on Brisbane CBD electronic billboards.
“You simply don’t know who is behind the wheel,” according to TCQ chief executive Benjamin Wash. “Taxi drivers undergo daily criminal checks, but rideshare drivers don’t”.

Uber claims to conduct extensive police and criminal record checks on drivers before they are permitted to operate, but its system has many additional features – all decidedly new age, highly efficient and at almost zero additional overhead – that provide a real safety benefit for users.

For a start, passengers can star-rate their driver. (Drivers also do the same as regards their passengers.) Any driver whose rating dips lower than three stars is let go. The Uber app also notifies passengers before a car’s arrival of its make, model & registration no, and the driver’s name, mobile number & most importantly, star rating.

The rider then has the option of declining the ride and an alternative can be requested. Perhaps we will see conventional taxis adopt these measures before long.

For the time being though, it seems that both systems offer reasonably extensive measures to ensure passenger safety.
What of the “uninsured” claim? This vague assertion appears to suggest that passengers will be denied third party insurance cover if they are involved in an accident.

But a closer look at Queensland’s long-standing CTP system shows this is not the case. All vehicles are covered and all Uber passengers will likely be covered as well in the same way as they would be if involved in a taxi accident.

Back seat conversations

Uber – the worldwide ride sharing service powered only by smartphone app and user evangelism – represents the epitome of information age business disruption set to consign taxi and limousine businesses to a museum display. Taxi owners are not the only ones threatened by the rapid emergence of consumer driven efficiencies that include no licence fees, no expensive in-car equipment, lower travel costs and no cash handling.

Equipment suppliers, payment providers and governments are all heavily invested in maintaining the status quo.
Request a ride at the tap of a button and get the price up front. Track the driver’s route and ETA. See a pic of your driver, details of their car and their rating before they arrive. When the ride ends, payment is taken care of by your credit card through the app.

An emailed receipt showing all the ride details is received immediately. You couldn’t get more consumer-friendly than that.

But Queensland’s Taxi Council warns passengers Uber is a poor quality alternative to the conventional taxi service.
So let’s compare some riding experiences…

Cab Driver #1

Airport pick-up to New Farm $36. The driver was friendly and asked about our trip. Minutes after set-down, my friend realised his phone had been left behind. A call to the taxi company to notify details of the trip was frustrating. After 20 minutes on hold, the dispatcher said they were not in touch with drivers and suggested we call back on Monday. The phone was not found.

Cab Driver #2

Fortitude Valley to Ascot $14.80. It’s 2.30am and I spot a cab, tap on the window to wake the sleeping driver. The trip passes silently until I pay and bid goodnight to my silent chauffer.

Cab Driver #3

New Farm to Fortitude Valley $7.80. My driver takes a call for the duration of the trip.

Timothy, Uber Driver #1

New Farm to Highgate Hill $14. Timothy knows a lot about Uber. He’s been driving since September and has followed all developments. He told us about the history of Uber, kindly warned us about the upcoming fare surge and wished us a wonderful evening.

Waheed, Uber Driver #2

West End to New Farm $13. Waheed was finishing up his Master’s Degree and gave me some travel tips on visiting India (don’t go in June, Goa is a must-see and learn a little of the language).

Brendan, Uber Driver #3

Hamilton to West End $18. Brendan just graduated and was new to Uber. Brendan was extremely patient with his jovial and loud passengers – changing the music and offering minties and bottled water. He even wished happy birthday to my friend.

The future of Uber in Queensland is uncertain – in September 2014 Premier Campbell Newman issued a cease and desist order to the company. What is certain is that Uber offers an efficient and customer focused alternative to an expensive and less than perfect taxi system.

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