goCatch founders Andrew Campbell and Ned Moorfield with a Sydney cab.
Photo: Rob Homer
The NSW government will allow consumers to use mobile applications such as Uber, goCatch and ingogo to book taxis for the first time under proposed changes to the state’s taxi laws.
The state government said it would also limit the surcharge on credit and debit card payments for taxis to 5 per cent, following a similar decision by the Victorian government last year, effectively halving the fee charged by incumbent Cabcharge and rivals.
State Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian says changes to passenger transport laws to be introduced in state Parliament this year would remove the legal grey area which third-party booking apps have been operating under to date. “We have already seen how real-time information on mobile phone apps has completely changed the customer experience on other modes of public transport, and it is time to modernise this out-dated taxi-booking process,” she says in a statement. “The reforms will safeguard customers by ensuring the apps meet the full range of customer service, privacy and safety standards that apply to existing booking services provided by taxi networks.”
By removing restrictions on competing taxi networks in the legislation, the state government will effectively give the green light to the operations of goCatch, Uber and ingogo, provided drivers are licensed and taxi meters are used. The apps will risk losing their authorisation to operate in NSW if they fail to meet the regulations.
Incumbent taxi booking networks and payment operators like Cabcharge have lobbied against the third-party apps, claiming they are unsafe for passengers. “It’s something that, clearly in principle we welcome, on the basis that whatever is implemented in terms of new legislation – and we’ve yet to see that detail – is applied equally to all members of the industry,” says Taxi Council of NSW chief executive, Roy Wakelin-King.
Government wants to increase competition
But the state government is hoping the reforms will remove restrictions on the apps and encourage more taxi booking services and promote competition. “It’s not going to create an extra burden on us – it’s going to help our business, it will give us a lot more credibility on the public side,” ingogo chief executive Hamish Petrie says. “We’re not just the crazy app we were two years ago – we’re being validated by government.”
He says the government should update regulations to provide incentives to taxi drivers to provide better customer service. GoCatch co-founder Andrew Campbell says it would be business as usual.
“Because our focus is safety, reliability and certainty, our operations are already run as if we are regulated,” he says.
The reduction in surcharges will affect goCatch and Ingogo, which both currently charge in excess of 5 per cent in NSW for taxi rides booked through their apps. Both companies said they would begin reducing the surcharge in the coming weeks.
Cabcharge told the market the surcharge reduction would halve the $28 million in fees it collects annually in NSW.
Uber Sydney general manager David Rohrsheim welcomes the changes.
“We support anything that promotes and supports competition,” he says.