NZ Uber drivers are planning a strike on 14 May or Monday next week to voice their concerns arising from using the platform, according to a Stuff report and Salient, the VUW student magazine. But, this won’t be the first time that New Zealand’s Uber drivers threaten to strike against the company.
Not the first time
Kiwi Uber drivers first announced a strike in 2016, 2 years after the service had launched in the country. This was to protest low fares and lowering the entry requirements of $2,000 per driver sign up to just $20 per driver sign up. (See Uber’s announcement here and another report here.) In a response, Uber’s spokesperson told NZ Herald that the company had reduced passenger fares to put “more bums on seats.” Note that at this time, the NZ Transport Authority, had declared the driver requirements of Uber and Uber as a service illegal. Not long after that, in mid-2017, Uber increased its minimum cost of a ride in New Zealand from $5 to $6.50, apparently, after discussions with drivers.
Uber launched in NZ in 2014 and is currently available in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Tauranga Dunedin and Queenstown. It claims to have 5,000 drivers and 400,000 users in the country.
Playing by the rules is not for Uber
Towards the end of March 2018, Uber launched in Dunedin and Queenstown in Otago. At this time, The Otago Daily Times quoted regional authorities as saying that Uber was welcome in Dunedin and Queenstown “as long as it played by the rules.”
This statement would indicate a general disregard – and even a lack of foresight – towards the backlash and criticism that Uber has faced since its inception, not just globally, but also in New Zealand.
In New Zealand, Uber has faced issues like:
- Fines, warning letters and cessation of service from the NZTA for not following rules (and part 2 of the same story) (in depth coverage here)
- Protests against illegal operations and flouting rules in Christchurch
- Taxi owners’ loss of wages due to the Wellington airport deal
- No guarantee of passenger safety due to lack of in-car cameras
- Data breach affecting NZ users
- False advertising
But, there’s more to it
In August 2017, the NZ Parliament passed the Land Transport Amendment Act 2017 deregulating the NZ taxi industry. The Act, which came into effect from 1 October 2017, outlined new rules for taxis, shuttles, private taxis and app-based services with 12 or less seats (including the driver). (pdf) It clubbed small passenger services and added “P” or Passenger endorsements for licensed service operators, among other requirements.
Uber, in its submission (see pdf documents 1 and 2, timeline of submission unknown) towards the consultation leading to this Act, said that the safety requirements of the Act were “unjustified for any transport model, and were obsolete and ineffective.” It also concluded that this review of the Act would only worsen status quo and did not acknowledge that services like itself were different from traditional taxi operations.
No UberPOOL for New Zealand
The end statements in Uber’s conclusion in its submission stood out as imperative warnings. Paraphrased, they said (see *citation “A part of Uber’s submission” below) –
- If the proposed regulations are not amended, Uber “will not make UberPOOL available to NZ” (UberPOOL is the carsharing service elsewhere globally) and
- Uber’s submission has outlined how Uber’s services are “fundamentally” different from taxi services “and should be treated as such.”
Strangely enough, Uber NZ’s general manager Richard Menzies seemed to be out of sync with the company’s submission, since, in May 2017, he said that UberPOOL would be likely launched in NZ.
*A part of Uber’s submission:
If the proposed regulations proceed without amendment, and if the administrative burdens are not dealt with, this review could see a transport system that looks no different than its current make up. That should not be the outcome delivered. A review that intends to ‘future proof’ the regulations should deliver a better outcome for New Zealanders, not simply another version of the status quo. If these changes are not made, then the benefits of ridesharing and other opportunities, such as technology assisted carpooling, through UberPOOL will not be able to be made available to New Zealand.
The review has coupled the regulation of ridesharing with further deregulation of taxis. These two projects can proceed independently. The discussion paper already endorses the essential elements of the ridesharing model. It is fundamentally different to taxi services and should be treated as such. As an immediate step, the Government should act to regulate ridesharing in the interim using its delegated legislative powers, pending more ambitious reform of the entire industry.
Further reading: Taxis – why you’re paying so much (NZ Herald, May 2014)