29 Apr 2016

Uber drivers could be breaking law, says NZTA

From Nine To Noon, 9:08 am on 29 April 2016

Uber's drivers will be breaking the law if they start driving without getting the required certification, the New Zealand Transport Agency says.

As of last week, the smartphone-based driver service has dropped its requirements for drivers to have a passenger-class (P) endorsement for their licence or a certificate of fitness for their vehicle.

Uber app

Uber offers users a smartphone-based driver service. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Auckland Uber driver Ben Wilson said drivers were made aware of the changes last week and that they were upset about the changes to compliance.

He said police were likely to charge drivers who did not have P endorsements, which could cost drivers thousands of dollars and could even result in them losing their licences.

"Uber's put that on those drivers, they're carrying that risk entirely on themselves," he said.

Mr Wilson said no good reason was given for the changes, although he thought one reason might have been to reduce the barriers to entering the business.

It took two months for Mr Wilson to become a driver, during which time he had paid over $700 for his P-class endorsement, with additional costs involved such as $87 for his vehicle's certificate of fitness.

He said while old drivers would likely continue to be compliant, he was doubtful the new ones would.

"They'd have to be convinced, they'd have to hear from somebody who knows what's involved, what's really at risk, what it is that they stand to lose. You know, they could be basically bankrupted.

"I still want to drive for Uber, I think it's a brilliant service. The moment I had my first ride, I was convinced myself that this thing has improved the whole nature of the business. But that was when it was all compliant to the laws of this country, it's still a country of laws as far as I'm concerned."

In its announcement of the changes, Uber said it was addressing feedback that it took too long and cost too much to get on its platform.

"We are introducing new processes that cut the cost of getting on the road to $20 and take only around six days to complete, making flexible earning opportunities for residents in Auckland and Wellington even more accessible."

It said all drivers would have to pass a criminal background check and a driving history check.

"Additionally, all vehicles coming onto the platform from today must be 2006 or newer, have at least private third-party property damage insurance, which in that case is also backed up by Uber's own contingent liability insurance cover, and hold a current warrant of fitness."

A New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) spokesperson said it was not legal to drive passengers for profit without a P-class endorsement.

Last week, the government announced changes to the industry - including creating a single set of rules under a category called 'small passenger service' - that could come into effect next year.

But the NZTA said Uber's new rules would not be legal even under the proposed changes to the law.

It said it had been working closely with Uber up until last Thursday, when Uber made the change in policy to drop the requirement for P-class endorsements.

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