Steps taken this week by the ACT government to legalise
ride-sharing services from October 30 have come soon after
Australian taxi operators and owners linked arms in a vain and
antiquated protest against the future.
Some of the more alarmist opposition to services such as Uber
has centred on the so-called "safety risk" for customers.
Large billboard ads by the taxi industry warning of the safety risk
have been labelled by some as nothing more than scaremongering.
Others have claimed that employers may face health-and-safety legal
implications by allowing their workers to use Uber.
In fact, Uber may be safer for all concerned, given that neither
the rider nor the driver is anonymous. The journey is tracked and
the rider can send those details in real time to a friend. The
rider and driver both then get to rate their experience, allowing
Uber to review which drivers should remain on its platform, and
respond easily to any incident.
These features act as a deterrent for bad behaviour and a
helpful resource in case of an emergency.
Uber is no less bound by health and safety laws than its
competitors. A rider injured through the negligence of an Uber
driver has as much claim against their driver and Uber as they do
against the driver of a taxi and the taxi company in similar
circumstances. Uber also has extensive insurance.
The health and safety regulators equally have the right to
proactively intervene as much in relation to any risk regarding an
Uber ride as they do in relation to a taxi ride. The Uber driver,
after all, is conducting a business or an undertaking under the
health-and-safety laws and owes the rider the appropriate duty of
care. Likewise, Uber is conducting a business or undertaking, and
as such, also owes both the driver and rider on its platform a duty
Uber's accountability may, in fact, be greater. A taxi
network typically operates through bailment arrangements. The
driver takes possession of the vehicle, pays the owner a fee
similar to a rent on the vehicle and keeps the takings after
expenses. The taxi owner must maintain their taxi or fleet of
taxis. The taxi company whose branding appears on the vehicle
co-ordinates the booking and dispatch.
There is a high degree of reliance by all concerned on the
licensing and regulatory scheme that underpins that. Piercing those
complex arrangements in a litigation to hold the taxi network
accountable may not be as simple as first meets the eye.
The Uber platform is more straightforward. The driver is also
the vehicle owner. Uber is accountable as it authorises the vehicle
and driver on its platform. The driver is also accountable as a
person conducting that business or undertaking. The platform may
avoid other regulatory schemes but its accountability for safety is
arguably more direct.
There is no evidence that Uber is not taking those obligations
seriously, given its strict criminal-background and driving-history
checks and standards.
Uber-driver vehicles are also inspected by accredited
third-party vehicle inspectors before they go to work.
There may be many reasons why the taxi industry is aggrieved by
Uber's emergence, but lower safety is not legitimately one of
Michael Tooma is the Asia-Pacific head of occupational
health, safety and security for Norton Rose Fulbright
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