Uber ride-sharing goes legal in Australian capital

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Sydney (dpa) – Australian capital Canberra became the first city in the country to make the Uber ride-sharing service legal Friday, despite widespread protests from taxi drivers.

From midday (0100 GMT) drivers signed up to the Uber X service – which allows registered drivers to provide lifts using their own, everyday vehicles – can operate side-by-side with taxis.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said after the regional government passed the necessary legislation that he was confident the Uber service would be safe and complement the service offered by taxis.

He marked the occasion by taking Australia’s first legal Uber ride with the company’s Australian general manager David Rohrsheim.

“Ridesharing vehicles and drivers will undergo accreditation and registration, including criminal and driving history checks – just like taxi drivers,” the regional government said.

The rideshare must be fully insured, those who have lost their driver licence in the past five years are banned, and drivers aged over 70 have to pass health checks.

Rohrsheim told ABC Radio Canberra Uber’s aim was not to damage the taxi industry, but attract people who want a ride who normally wouldn’t use a taxi.

“What we’re seeing around the world is a whole generation of people saying ‘if you can give me a ride at the push of a button that’s very affordable I don’t think I’ll need to own a car anymore, I’ll just rely on this app on my phone to help me get around’,” Rohrsheim said.

Uber has grown since it was established in 2009 in Califormia to be available in 60 countries.

Its rapid expansion has however provoked clashes with taxi drivers in many countries who see Uber as unfair competition, and multiple legal challenges over Uber’s system of driver accreditation and other issues.

In Brisbane, where Uber is illegal, two taxi drivers are facing charges of beating up an Uber driver they had allegedly summoned by app and accused him of stealing their work.

In September thousands of taxi drivers staged protests against Uber in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane claiming Uber drivers weren’t subject to the same regulations and licence fees and therefore illegally undercut their business.

The Australian Taxi Drivers Association urged state governments to ban Uber.

The protest backfired as Uber signed up hundreds of customers while the taxis were on strike.

In Canberra, taxi licence lease fees are to be halved in 2016 and halved again in 2017, the government said.

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