Illegal, unsafe, job killing, job creating, monopoly-busting, money saving — Uber may be the taxi industry’s worst enemy but it’s the adjective’s best friend.
For a company most Australians hadn’t heard of a year ago, the ridesharing service and fledging tech giant has become a walking (or driving) headline.
Which probably shouldn’t be surprising given its ambition to not only tackle Australia’s entrenched taxi monopolies but change the way people get around.
Quite simply, Uber ultimately wants you to sell your car and use its drivers instead.
“The figures show most cars are used about five per cent of the day and an enormous amount of the city’s space is dedicated to parking,” Uber’s Australian head David Rohrsheim told AAP.
“If people could catch a ride to any part of the city with a few minutes notice with the push of a button, they will think twice about whether they need to own a car.”
For the uninitiated, San Francisco-based Uber, which was recently valued at around $US40 billion ($A43.28 billion), produces an app that allows users to book taxis, limousines or, most controversially, ride with a private driver and car.
This last service, called UberX, started in Australia in April.
It allows anyone with a decent driving record, a clean criminal history and a car made in the last decade to become a (semi) professional driver.
Without having to pay hefty taxi licence fees and other associated costs, the end result is a service that’s cheaper for customers and more flexible for drivers.
Things could get cheaper still if a car pooling service currently being trialled overseas makes its way here, allowing strangers heading in the same direction to share a ride.
“That really starts to make Uber look like an alternative to owning a car for more and more people,” Mr Rohrsheim said.
Uber currently is available in most major capitals and a few smaller centres, and plans to roll out across Australia over the next year or so.
“We want to be everywhere,” Mr Rohrsheim said.
It also claims to have signed up hundreds of thousands of Australians and hopes millions more will become users in the future.
Before it can achieve its lofty ambitions, Uber will have to combat the furious taxi industry, and state governments unsure about the implications of its business model and losing lucrative taxi licence revenue.
Cabcharge chairman Russell Balding summed up the industry’s reaction, labelling UberX “dangerous, unsupervised and illegal”.
But Uber denies it’s breaking the law, and says it wants to work with governments to satisfy safety concerns.
“Generally, there are no rules around ride sharing … we welcome regulation and we want to work with the government,” Mr Rohrsheim said.
The company has had success in the US, where 14 states have now legislated to regulate ridesharing services.
But there’s been plenty of opposition too and run-ins with authorities around the world. It’s been blacklisted in India where a New Delhi driver is accused of rape; it’s been banned in Denmark; a Spanish court has issued a temporary ban; and California and Oregon have launched lawsuits.
Still, Mr Rohrsheim is adamant Uber will continue to expand and believes, ultimately, it will win over Australian governments.
“There’s plenty of people out there that wish Uber didn’t exist but we’re here to stay,” he said.
“We are really just getting started.”