Corruption-buster Gary Sturgess will lead a crackdown on illegal ride-sharing app UberX after NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance demanded a "more even playing field" for taxi drivers, who face huge costs and red tape competing with tech-driven rivals.
Mr Sturgess — architect of the Independent Commission Against Corruption — is spearheading a taskforce to examine the future of the taxi and transport industry. He will report back in October with ways to deal with "unregulated" ride-sharing apps.
UberX appeared in Sydney last year offering customers the option of booking a ride online with ordinary private car drivers. The state government has ruled it illegal because UberX drivers are not accredited under the Passenger Transport Act.
The US-headquartered firm claimed in May it clocked-up 1 million bookings in its first year — but taxi drivers, who have lost business to the firm, have complained about the low regulatory burden UberX drivers face.
Mr Constance announced yesterday the taskforce would look at competition in the taxi and transport industry, customer safety and the burden of taxi regulations.
"Cities around the world are grappling with these changes and in particular the introduction of unregulated ride-sharing apps," he said.
"If we want to see a strong future for the taxi industry and make services more attractive to customers, the next step is to look closely at regulations to ensure a more even playing field."
There is a need to ensure an appropriate level of government-backed regulations to protect the public interest
UberX drivers have to be aged 21 or over, undergo criminal and driving history background checks, own a 2006-model, four-door car or newer that has passed safety checks and hold insurance.
Taxi drivers face a heavier regulatory burden — including insurance costs of about $13,000 a year, mandatory internal $3000 security cameras, $1300 initial licence fees, annual health and vehicle checks — and livery and signage costs.
NSW Taxi Council CEO Roy Wakelin-King backed the Sturgess taskforce.
"History has shown the risk of market failure in deregulated taxi services is high and there is a need to ensure an appropriate level of government-backed regulations to protect the public interest," Mr Wakelin-King said.
"There is a strong sense of injustice among all members of the NSW taxi industry as a consequence of the current inequity facing taxi drivers, owners and operators. Unless the law is properly upheld, this situation will worsen."
Uber also backed the taskforce and said it was a victory for "competition, consumers and choice".