UberX, the contentious low-cost ride-sharing service using regular drivers and their own cars, will face its biggest challenge in Australia next year, with drivers facing criminal charges in a Melbourne court.
The Australian reports a dozen UberX drivers are being prosecuted following a sting operation by the industry regulatory body the Taxi Services Commission (TSC).
One of the UberX drivers, Nathan Brenner, of Caulfield North, will face court first in a test case, charged with operating a commercial passenger vehicle without a license from the TSC, criminal offence with a maximum $7500 fine.
Uber’s global growth has been phenomenal, with a recent investment valuing the company at $US40 billion. But it is facing regulatory crackdowns in multiple jurisdictions including some parts of the US and in countries such as The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Thailand and India.
In the alleges the offences occurred between May 28 and August 27 in Geelong, Southbank and Melbourne’s CBD.
Defence barrister Peter Haag has challenged the legitimacy of the sting operation that led to Bremmer’s arrest, calling it entrapment.
TSC officer David Morris used the Uber smartphone app to book and take the journey before charging the driver.
“Those who were instructing Morris counselled and procured the commission of the offences,” he said saying his client did not admit to the charge.
The case returns to court on February 5 for a further hearing.
The Australian attempted to establish who was funding the Bremmer’s defence, but neither his solicitor, nor Uber, would confirm if the company was paying, with a spokesperson saying only that it “stands by its partners fully”.
In Victoria, taxis are not part of the Uber offering. Only Uber Black, which uses TSC-accredited hire cars and drivers is allowed.
Drivers have been issued with $2500 fines and threatened legal action.
Sydney’s Uber Taxi, which piggybacks off the regular taxi fleet, and Uber Black, which uses hire cars, are unaffected.
The taxi industry’s biggest player, Cabcharge, has also raised concerns about Uber’s tax affairs, calling on the government to investigate the company.
One of the more controversial aspects to Uber is the use of surge pricing, which increases the fare costs when bad weather and demand is high.
Today in Sydney around lunch time, the cost of a UberX car was increased to 2.6 times the normal price, with a minimum fare of $20.80 and a cost per km of $3.77 making the cost of a private car around one third more expensive than a regular taxi.
Globally, Uber has been struggling in recent weeks, as some countries move to ban the service and the company faces a PR backlash after it emerged that an executive proposed digging up personal information on reporters to discredit journalists who are critical of the company.
The US-based parent company, valued at more than $40 billion in some estimates, is facing trouble on home turf, with services suspended in Nevada following legal action and this week, the city of Portland, Oregon, filed a lawsuit against Uber just four days after it launched there, declaring it an “illegal, unregulated transportation service.”
Legal actions to ban the company are also ongoing in the Netherlands and Germany, while the service was banned in Spain and Thailand in the past week. New Delhi, India, also banned it following sexual assault allegations against an Uber driver.
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