Taxis facing challenge

The smartphone app causing a stir around the world won't spark protest action in New Zealand, despite it fostering illegal competition against cabbies, a taxi spokesman tells Shawn McAvinue.

New Zealand Taxi Federation executive director Roger Healey says no protest action is planned in New Zealand despite Uber running illegally in Auckland since May.

The growing use of the Uber app recently sparked protests from registered cabbies in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Spain.

The San Francisco-based company's mobile app connects passengers with available drivers.

The payment for the ride was settled with Uber, not the driver, with the passenger's credit card being billed after the ride.

By way of comparison in New Zealand, a Uber fare in Auckland booked earlier this week for 1pm cost a $1.50 flagfall and 50c per minute and $1.45 per km.

At the same time, a Dunedin Taxi cost was a $2.90 flagfall and $2.80 per km.

The Uber website said its rates changed when demand was high to entice more cars on the road to ensure reliability during busy times.

When car supply was sufficient, the ''surge pricing'' stopped and the pricing returned to normal.

Mr Healey said Uber fares tracked fare by distance using Global Positioning System technology.

As Uber was a private hire company, not a taxi company, it was illegal to have a meter.

A question remained on how the New Zealand Transport Agency would police Uber drivers.

Mr Healey said the federation expected Uber to ignore any agency requests to change the way it operated and would challenge the Government agency in court.

The federation expected Uber to stay in New Zealand so it was educating passengers on the advantages of hailing a taxi.

A taxi was safer because it had a camera, a safety alarm for the driver, was available all the time and its operators were accountable.

The Uber drivers were not working for Uber - they used the app to find work - so Uber, or the driver, had no accountability, he said.

Mr Healey agreed the waiting time for a taxi in central Dunedin on a Saturday night could be long and the federation was ''desperate'' to recruit more drivers. The federation had a plan to attract more drivers to the industry, including helping drivers get a passenger endorsement on their driver's licence.

The federation would promote taxi driving as a lucrative career, he said.

''You can earn a lot of money working part-time.''

An advantage of Uber entering the New Zealand market was it provided drivers with a taste and could entice them to enter the taxi industry.

NZTA access and use central regional manager Kate Styles said the agency was ''making it very clear'' to Uber how to comply with New Zealand legislation.

As Uber was a private hire company it could not use a meter system and could only charge passengers two ways.

''They must either agree a fixed charge with a customer before the journey commences or they must agree an hourly rate.''

The agency would take Uber to court if necessary, she said.

For an Uber driver to pick up a passenger, they needed a passenger endorsement on their driver's licence, to keep a log book, and drive an approved vehicle, she said.

Uber now operated in more than 70 cities since launching in 2009.

Uber Sydney general manager David Rohrsheim did not respond to interview requests or questions about whether Uber had plans to operate in Otago.

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