Thursday, May 08, 2014

Uber - Illegal Operators are Against the Law


Motorcycle riders acting as marshals at an Ironman Competition being held on 16th November face heavy fines if they accept the payment being offered by Event Organisers who are desperate to fill 20 Marshall positions for the event.

Riders are being offered payment of $110, Fuel Vouchers and lunch.

The Victorian Taxi Commissioner has stated that he frowns on similar activity, when addressing the legal framework surrounding organisations like Uber and drivers who provide their services in return for Fee for Service.

There nonetheless remain some serious issues surrounding such services. In Victoria, the driver of a commercial passenger vehicle must be accredited with the Taxi Services Commission, “primarily so we can check drivers against police records” according to Samuel.

“Our focus is on safety and security”, he says, adding that if an Uber vehicle is not properly registered, it is “almost certainly not insured”.

There is also the problem that the licence fee for a commercial passenger hire vehicle is fixed at $40,000 on the statute books. Samuel says he is open to discussing how this issue can be dealt with, highlighting the importance of cooperation between the regulator and companies. 

“There is an important need to protect the safety of passengers and drivers, and whilst Uber and other newcomers have massive commercial incentives to address safety themselves, strong safety regulation is still a requirement.

Motorcycles and the provision of the type of service being sought by the Ironman Event organisers (the roles vary from pillioning photographers and cameramen to leading the first rider in, to carrying officials for scrutineering for drafting) are the domain of the Taxi Services Commissioner.

The regulations covering Commercial Motorcycles include an Annual Licence Fee, Criminal History checks, Rider Pillion Experience (a rider must have a continuous 5 years riding history) and Public Liability cover.

HD Chauffeur Ride Pty Ltd has in the past provided services of the nature required by the Ironman Event organisers, and regularly performs similar work for Tourism Victoria. We question the Pillion carrying experience of the people being recruited. This is a major safety issue that is being overlooked here.

I wrote to Neil Mitchell at 3AW this week to bring his attention to the Legal problems that associated with the Uber phenomenon. Here is how I explained the way it effects the Harley Rides Industry, and the can of worms that the Taxi Services Commissioner faces:

Dear Neil,

Your attention is drawn to the lack of Public Knowledge surrounding Fee for Service operations, and the validity of the Commercial Fees that I and other like commercial operators pay to government agencies like the Taxi Services Commision (TSC). The emergence of Uber and services like it have been around for many years and there is an underlying issue that needs to be exposed.

I have uncovered what I believe is a conflict which could embarrass the TSC in relation to their inability to enforce and regulate operators charging Fee for Service vehicle transport operations. In addition, I have uncovered further evidence which incriminates several Melbourne Major Events, who appear to be breaking the law in relation to the employment of non-licenced operators charging Fee for Service.

All Fee for Service operations are regulated by law in Victoria. In order to accept any form of payment, an operator must only use a vehicle that is properly licenced (requiring the payment of a specific licence fee for that type of vehicle) and the driver must hold the appropriate commercial accreditation (ie for taxis a Drivers Certificate). Uber White and others like it fail to meet any of the above. The emergence of  Uber stands to make a mockery of the TSC, as leads the public to believe that it is OK to pay anyone for service. There are many categories affected for which the public is ignorant of the requirement of Victorian Law.

Widespread abuse of the Fee for Service Law became known to me late last year, which became apparent to me when I was employed to transport a video cameraman on my motorcycle at the Melbourne Marathon in 2014. On that day I discovered that there were a large number of motorcycles employed that day, for which none held the appropriate TSC Fee for Service Licence. Further detail is outlined in a  copy of a letter I wrote to Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder (see attached and his response).

Further information has been made available to me that IronmanMelbourne has also been employing motorcycle riders for many years. The information I have is that their source originates from a Ulysses Club on the Mornington Peninsula. I spoke to them today and they confirmed that they do employ riders, and they had no knowledge of any commercial licence requirement for riders. I have also spoken to Bicycle Network Victoria and they advise that they use motorcycle riders, but only re-imburse for fuel costs and that support is voluntary and I have no concern with that. 

My questions are:

a. Do the public understand that by engaging someone without the appropriate commercial licence, that they may be breaking the law? How widespread is this practice?

b. Why should I continue to pay the TSC a licence fee when there are others being employed (who do not hold the same commercial licence) to supply something for which I, as a legitimate operator, could have otherwise supplied? I have rigidly remained within the law for the duration of the time I have been conducting fee for service operations. There have been many occasions on which I have lost bookings because I refused to employ non commercial licenced bikes and riders because there a only a limited number of commercial licenced riders( the way I conduct booking for large groups is limited by the numbers of legal riders - but that is an entire other saga).

c. If the TSC welcomes competition, then does this therefore not demonstrate that the TSC should be scrapped? I have paid them a lot of money over the last 15 years and don't think I get any value for  money. Are they not required to protect me from illegal operators?

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