back to article Uber BLOCKS COPS to stop stings

UberX is illegal in most Australian States, as legislation insists that those who take you for a paid ride must hold a taxi driver's license and drive you in a licensed taxi. Authorities are therefore trying to find UberX drivers and fine them. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's 730 program now alleges that Uber is …

  1. Sanctimonious Prick
    Devil

    Pfft...

    Suck-O! :D

    1. PleebSmash
      Devil

      Re: Pfft...

      Got to admit, the Uber criminal enterprise effectively reroutes past all laws and regulations.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pfft...

        Yeah, however there is an offence in most English speaking countries known as "perverting the course of justice".

        You can (and should) get nailed with a jail term for that. What is described in the article looks suspiciously close to this so the transport department should stop complaining (and getting new credit cards), get the fraud squad in tow, get a court warrant and raid their offices. If the "suspicious activity" is "enforcing the law" and they are deliberately sabotaging it, well...

        Now the fact that the taxi industry is a massive corruption pyramid is a different story. As the saying goes - the law is an ass.

        1. PleebSmash

          Re: Pfft...

          It's the "glocal" scale of it that impresses me. A dispute, scandal, or ban in so many countries and major cities, and still they manage to operate and achieve a $40 billion valuation. I'm already anticipating autonomous Uber with the drivers kicked to the curb like human trash. Taxi companies would have done that same thing in 10 years in a non-Uber world, but Uber could put itself into a monopoly position.

        2. Cliff

          Re: Pfft...

          We're Americans, fuck your laws! They don't apply to us!

          1. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

            Re: Pfft...

            we're Americans, obey our laws, they apply to you.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pfft...

          Yeah, however there is an offence in most English speaking countries known as "perverting the course of justice".

          As far as I am aware a transport/taxi inspector is not a law enforcement officer and thus no such crime has been committed. Had they been doing the same to State or Federal Police phones then there may be a case to answer. However they have also covered themselves with the suspicious activity tag. If they block it, "investigate it", and several days later (due to volume) they unblock it then no crime has been committed but you have fallen foul of something that is no doubt in the T&Cs. They have every right to secure their platform from abuse. That the local vested interests do not like it is really neither here nor there. I personally have not used Uber but I appreciate that it should force the local cab companies to smarten their act, improve their drivers, and make their fares more reasonable. Cab fares in Queensland really take the piss.

  2. jjcoolaus

    Like any industry, adapt to 21st century tech, or die

    The taxi industry is doing a good job with apps, safety improvements, etc but they still have one big problem that uber doesn't have.

    CABSHARE - this is the evil, monopolistic, rip off everyone they can find company that provides credit card facilities in cabs.

    Yes you can sit there and say "well why don't you pay cash instead"? Yes of course I can pay cash, if I'm happy to carry around $80 in spare cash every time I go somewhere a taxi home might be required over and above what might be required where I am going. Then you have separate issues around safety.

    1. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Re: Like any industry, adapt to 21st century tech, or die

      But surely you find the immediate 10% surcharge for any form of payment other than cash perfectly reasonable? I mean, they are only covering the costs of the transaction. This is one area Australia needs to sharpen up, with only the cost of the payment method being added rather than some ridiculous top-up fee.

  3. dan1980

    "And Uber? It just carries on doing what it does, arguing that incumbents don't deserve protection from new market entrants."

    The taxi service in Sydney (Melbourne too) is not great.

    BUT, it is operating under the regulations that have been stipulated by the Government and following those regulations costs them money.

    The fact is that governments are responsible for issuing taxi licenses and they set the number at any time, releasing more if and as they see fit. Sydney is much better for this than some other areas in other countries and we have - I think - about 6,000 licenses. We also have a far larger percentage of owner-operators than other places, with 75% of all license holders owning just the one license.

    BUT, taxi drivers are still tied up in the system that the government has made. You can point to taxi companies shafting everyone but they are shafting the drivers too. They bought into a scheme that the government made and so the government isn't just protecting the 'incumbents' - they are protecting the system they built, which the drivers are part of.

    The taxi industry NEEDS to step up, with innovations like the smart-phone driver location display that Uber provides because waiting for a taxis in Sydney is bloody annoying. You have no idea where they are or how long they will be and calling the dispatch just gets a 'first available'. That's unacceptable.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Agreed.

      And Uber needs to keep its drivers off the streets, if they are driving illegally. Disrupt, push for change? Yay! Act illegally and put people at risk? Boo!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fuck Uber.

    Are there Laws governing taxi services? Yes.

    Is Uber obeying them? No.

    Is Uber actively obstructing justice for the Law Enforcement Officers attempting to enforce the law? Yes.

    Willfully violating, flaunting, and working to avoid the Law is textbook Criminal. And what do we do to criminal organizations?

    Find Uber's servers, shut them down, freeze the corporate officers' finances, and hold the officers personally responsible for the criminal acts of the people doing the driving. Uber has to know those driver's details in order to get paid, so put out Arrest Warrants for the Drivers as well.

    You nail the head to a wall, pound nails into the carcass every few cm to keep the corpse in line, and keep nailing the bastard until it's good & secure. Refuse to pull the nails until it agrees to obey the law, or cut it up, toss the bits in the fire, and use the liquidated resources of the company & it's officers to repay the government for all the hassle of prosecuting the criminal organization.

    If Uber obeyed the law then I'd be siding with them, but since they're not & actively giving the cops the bird, Fuck Uber.

    Fuck 'em with a SmartPhone.

    1. Mephistro Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Fuck Uber. (@ AC)

      "Fuck 'em with a SmartPhone."

      Given the way smartphones have been increasing their size lately, in a few years more, whoever has to choose between being fucked with a smartphone or with a pineapple would be wise to choose the pineapple.

      Remember, you read it here first!

    2. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: Fuck Uber.

      Perhaps if the taxi industry wasn't such a good source of political donations, the public might be a little more sympathetic.

      Perhaps if there was a little more discussion around the reasoning for the maze of regulations, the public might be a little more sympathetic and wary of non-conforming drivers.

      I think we've all seen stupid laws passed at the behest of vested interests.

      Criminal it may be, and to an extent, that makes it wrong, but is it really ethically wrong or wrong on a technicality? It says much when the complaint is that the criminal refuses to break the law for an officer so that the officer can arrest him.

      I'm not saying Uber is in the right here, I just feel as though we aren't being given the full arguments, and I'd like to hear the taxi industry and the government present a good justification for the regulations.

      I've had a proper registered cab take me home and then ask for an extra $20 on top of the fare. Huh? What? Why? "Now I know where you live, give me more money," sounds like the unpleasantness of an unregulated industry.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Fuck Uber.

        @P.Lee but regulations and laws are just that.

        Uber should work to repeal the laws and until then, their drivers should either working within the law or they shouldn't be on the street.

        1. dieselbug

          Re: Fuck Uber.

          Uber exists BECAUSE THE LAWS ARE NOT BEING CHANGED. Taxi companies have so many local authorities in their pockets (thanks to "political donations" or as I call them, bribes) that the current laws are staying on the books and licenses are restricted.

          Uber does more than most when it comes to verifying the state of vehicles, and the driver background checks are comprehensive. I'll take an Uber over a cab driven by a (barely legal) immigrant with nary a word of English spoken in a 200,000 mile ex-cop car any day of the week.

          Until the laws are written for the benefit of the consumer, not the Taxi industry, I'll continue to use Uber.

        2. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

          Re: Fuck Uber.

          rather like supermarkets did with the Sunday trading laws in the UK?

          just my little joke.

    3. dan1980

      Re: Fuck Uber.

      @AC

      Okay, that's a bit harsh but the main point is valid - there are laws and they are being broken.

      I just don't get what the problem for enforcing this is. It might be the drivers themselves are the ones actively breaking the law but Uber is certainly the 'ringleader' so the question implied in the post (AC) is - why don't they just go direct to Uber?

      Uber drivers (at least in Sydney) are trading without a license in a licensed industry. They are, legally, the same as an unlicensed plumber or electrician and thus the fines for operating in this fashion are comparable. In NSW, the fine is up to $120,000 - which I believe is about the same as you get if you are found doing unlicensed electrical work.

      What needs to happen is that EVERY Uber driver caught needs to be taken through the full process of a court appearance, which will then allow a real fine, rather than $2,500 on-the-spot fines. Those come with the threat of legal action but if they are really serious then it should be a threat - get sprung and you get a court date.

      Imagine a service that was working SPECIFICALLY to advertise unlicensed tradespeople and, not only that, accepted payments for their services, which they then took 20% of and forwarded the remaining 80% to the tradies. Further, they provided the tradies with a phone to help with the bookings.

      Uber vets these drivers (however superficially), provides the tools (the app) for them to work, provides the underlying matching service, PAYS them, and keeps the records of it all. How are they not being targeted directly? It's absurd. If the law is valid and there for a purpose then fucking well enforce it.

      Now, whether you think Uber is great or terrible or don't really care, the relevant authorities have made it clear - if you drive for Uber, you are operating unlicensed and breaking the law. It is staggering that Uber continues to facilitate this and yet suffers no action.

      If Uber are actively blocking attempts to identify these illegally-operating drivers then the answer for the authorities is to make sure that when they are able to nab a driver, that driver is pursued to the full extent of the law. That means not just a $2000 fine but a court case and the likelihood of a $120,000 fine.

      Most of these drivers are just ordinary people - they're not criminals (illegal and criminal are different things - take parking) and the overwhelming majority are undoubtedly good, decent folk looking to earn a bit of extra money. I doubt anyone really wants to see them crippled by a huge fine but they are illegally operating an unlicensed taxi service and they really should stop.

      Personally, I would make sure that it was common knowledge that operating as an Uber driver is breaking the law and that anyone caught will be taken to court and prosecuted, resulting in fines up to $120,000 (or whatever it is in the state). I would have ads in the paper, on radio, on the television, in car magazines and on billboards. I would contact all the major insurers and discuss with them so that they could send communications to their members to let them know that if they are an Uber driver operating an unlicensed taxi, their insurance may not cover them for any accidents or damages.

      I would ads up at petrol stations (many ads near the bowsers now) and in major garage chains like Ultra Tune and I would get people - police officers if possible - onto every news and current affairs show I could to put the message out.

      In short, I would make it so that no one can plausibly claim any ignorance about the illegality of their actions. And, once that was out of the way - say a two-four week media blitz - it would be straight to a zero-tolerance policy. Get caught and you go to court.

      And, all through, I would be looking at every possible avenue for holding Uber themselves accountable.

  5. Lyle Dietz
    Devil

    Temptation beckons

    I'm tempted to jump through all the hoops required to own and operate a limousine, and then sign up as an Uber driver.

    I don't know how much it would cost, but I'm sure it would be worth it to see the expression on the enforcer's face when I pull the requisite paperwork out of the glove box and then tell him to give me my money and GTFO of my car.

  6. DougS Silver badge

    How does Uber identify the phones?

    Apple fixed it so apps can't get a unique ID for the device, so I assume they were using Android phones here and the Uber app is getting a unique ID for the device. But given you can buy Androids for less than $50, why can't they raise the cost of the fines by $50 to pay for having to replace the phones? They can donate the "used" ones to charity.

    If they're just blocking the number, they don't need new phones, just new SIMs. That should be easy to deal with, and has the side benefit for them that Uber will eventually block so many numbers that potential customers who get one of the numbers Uber has blocked can't become customers. Uber would be DoSing themselves.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How does Uber identify the phones?

      But also new credit cards, new accounts ...

      As soon as they make one bust that account, credit card, sim is blocked. A lot of hassle for the law enforcement although pre-paid credit cards (are they available in Oz?) may help.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: How does Uber identify the phones?

        As would virtual credit card numbers. Are those still available there?

  7. Mephistro Silver badge
    Flame

    So, let me see if I'm getting this right.

    Isn't that a clear case of obstruction to justice? On top of all of their other crimes? Or is there any convenient/convoluted loophole in the laws? Why haven't these Uber dudes been jailed on charges of basically wiping their arses with -simultaneously - the Laws, citizen's safety and citizen's rights?

    Uber, please, FOAD!.

    1. Cliff

      Re: So, let me see if I'm getting this right.

      Quite. I can't see how 'vetting', advertising and promoting a service to make people without PSV licences drive paying passengers without insurance (you can bet the insurance company would not pay up on a domestic policy with such flagrant law beaches), then taking a slice of the action is anything but organised crime.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Easy solution?

    Complain to Apple and Google that an app in their respective stores is aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise? I believe Apple at least does have some form for actively removing content from devices.

  9. Semaj
    WTF?

    Car Sharing

    One question about all this.

    Is car sharing illegal in Australia if the passenger pays some of the petrol money plus a bit more for the effort?

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Car Sharing

      Generally your insurance will be void in many countries if you get a "bit more for effort."

      I don't know about Australia, but that is definitely the situation in Germany, where Uber is banned, but still operating, AFAIK. If you are driving from A to B anyway, you can take a passenger with you and drop them anywhere on the route and you can ask them to cover fuel costs (time, effort, wear and tear not, as these would have happened anyway, because you were making that journey with or without passenger).

      If you charge more than the fuel costs, then that is commercial and you need commercial insurance, to qualify for commercial insurance, you need to show your taxi licence.

      1. Semaj

        Re: Car Sharing

        Interesting.

        So then I wonder what the rules would be if someone used uber but only charged enough to cover half their fuel costs. So basically used it as a communal car sharing app.

        The point about if you were traveling to point B anyway is interesting as well because it's common to give non-driving friends or relatives lifts to places then ask for them to pay the fuel in it's entirety.

        An example might be if a friend wants to go to an airport, with their partner (who just for the sake of it let's say the driver doesn't know). The couple will each pay half of the driver's petrol so they are getting a cheap ride and the driver isn't out of pocket. The driver though has used his car to take a stranger (the partner) somewhere in exchange for money. So would that be covered by insurance or not?

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Car Sharing

          @Semaj

          Car sharing has been big for years over here. When I moved to Germany in 2000, there were meeting points and the German rail company had a car sharing service, where people going on trips could register and they would match up drivers and passengers.

          This progressed over to an internet portal and today there are dozens of care sharing schemes, with apps, web sites etc.

          Another interesting one is the rental car system, you can pick up a rental car neary-by that needs to be returned to a center at your destination and you just have to pay for the fuel. You have a set time to get there (which is usually fairly generous) and you can make minor detours from the route.

    2. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: Car Sharing

      Car sharing is perfectly legal in Australia and we even have our version of 'car pool' lanes (T2, T3), not that drivers seem to take much notice of them. We are, after all, talking about a country of drivers who like to position for a junction well in advance - often up to 3 hours before they make the turn - so someone moving onto the A4 from the M2 will usually move into the 'car pool' lane as soon as it appears, some 5km back, just to make sure they don't miss their turnoff. Or at least that's the excuse that is normally successful when they're pulled over.

      Problem is that car sharing was assumed to be along the lines of 'My car this week, yours next' with no money changing hands. The acceptance by the authorities of the fact that 'We always use Bill's car because he has free city parking, so we just chip in towards the petrol' is the loophole Uber used when setting up their service.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prediction

    somewhere, soon, an Uber "taxi" driver is going to commit a violent criminal act. The balance of probabilities suggests it will be sexual in nature, and the victim will be female.

    This will polarize the debate, with taxi drivers pointing out how regulation would have prevented this, and Uber desperately telling you it's not their fault.

    I'm writing this, because Uber will also say "we had no idea this could happen" - well this should bork that defence.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Prediction

      Already happened in India...

      Although taxi drivers have been known to rape or kill passengers over the years as well, not many, but it has happened.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good on them. Nothing better than beating the law at its own game. This is the industry responsible for the 10% credit card surcharge don't forget. It deserves to burn.

  12. Daniel Hutty

    Entrapment?

    I'd be interested to know what exactly the law enforcement officials were doing with these accounts in order to hand out fines...

    If they were using the app to identify drivers, then staking out said drivers to catch them in the act of taking a fare, then I can see how that fits within the law.

    However, if they were using the app to *book a ride*, then issuing a fine when the driver turned up, surely that's entrapment? I.e. an officer of the law inciting someone to commit a crime, then booking them for it. It'd be along the lines of a plain-clothes cop offering someone a tenner to break a window for them, then booking them for vandalism / attempted breaking-and-entering!

    1. Mark #255

      Re: Entrapment?

      It'd be along the lines of a plain-clothes cop offering someone a tenner to break a window for them, then booking them for vandalism / attempted breaking-and-entering!

      No, I think a closer analogy would be going to www.WeWillBreakWindowsForYou.com.au and booking a window breaker.

      Although this analogy fails in that I don't think you can get a licence for breaking windows, whereas you can get a licence for operating a taxi service.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Entrapment?

      Nope. Uber drivers were clearly already acting outside of the law. Getting someone to do what they are already doing isn't entrapment. Doing what the fake sheikh was doing getting people to do something the weren't already doing is.

    3. A Dawson

      Re: Entrapment?

      Entrapment is not a legal defence in Australia

      1. Boothy

        Re: Entrapment?

        In general, Entrapment as a defence only works if the defendant would not have otherwise broken the law, without the influence of the entrapping officer. i.e. they were an otherwise upstanding citizen, and only broke the law on that specific occasion, and only because somehow the officer managed to persuade/pressure them in to doing so. (Still depends on what you did though).

        In this case, Uber drivers are willingly driving illegally, without the required license, and likely without valid insurance, therefore are already a danger to themselves, their passengers, and other road users. So it's not entrapment, as the officers are not the ones making them break the law, the drivers are doing that themselves already.

  13. Mephistro Silver badge
    Megaphone

    "Uber drivers were clearly already acting outside of the law"

    Disingenuous. You'll find that most Uber drivers weren't driving illegally until Uber provided them with simple and easy to use tools for contacting customers, billing them, etcetera . It's almost like building a chemical factory and distribution network with the sole purpose of leasing said facility and service to crystal meth producers and 'distributors'. It's about as -legally and ethically- wrong as a business model can be.

    Cab drivers have a higher level of driving licenses than normal drivers, a more expensive insurance policy, are subject to more frequent inspections, more health tests and harsher rules on alcohol-drugs consumption, and the cabs themselves are subject to very thorough technical inspections periodically.

    In 30 years of using cabs relatively often I've only once suffered a drunk licensed taxi driver. I read in some forum several months a go a comment that stated that the commenter -a frequent Uber user- experienced that situation in Uber cars four times in the last year. Join the dots...

  14. Mephistro Silver badge
    Happy

    Oopsiee...

    I just re read your post. My most abject apologies and a virtual pint if I misunderstood your comment, but I think it can be interpreted both ways. Nevertheless, If you meant that Uber was on the right because all Uber drivers were driving wihout a license before Uber appeared on stage, I stick to my words.

  15. SpiderPig

    What if??

    Drivers who are operating for the UberX platform are really putting themselves and their passengers at a massive risk. Scenario - They have an accident, the paying passenger is injured and ends up in a wheel chair for the rest of his/her life. I would bet the drivers third party insurance company would not pay out a dime leaving the passenger to take the matter through the civil court system. Not a great prospect of getting anything in compensation as the driver I bet would not have the funds to remotely pay a dime. He would then have to declare bankrupcy to avoid any further legal action.

    So, 2 lives ruined all for the want of a bunch of yanks flouting our laws in the name of making money. There are a number of cases in the US where these guys have actually threatened journalists if they write anything bad. I wonder if they will try that trick here in Oz? They are not a very nice bunch and the word ethics does not exist in their vocabulary.

    The laws governing taxi's are there to protect the public and they do it well. Pity the drivers are not put through the same process as those in the UK and have to have "The Knowledge" which is one reason why people are pissed off and then go and use an unsafe system such as Uber.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: What if??

      I would bet the drivers third party insurance company would not pay out a dime

      Depends on policy and jurisdiction, of course. Here in Michigan, we have mandatory auto insurance that includes no-fault medical benefits for life. Needless to say this is controversial - insurers hate it, it's a significant component of premiums, some hypothesize that it leads to more uninsured drivers illegally on the road, etc - but that's how it's been for a long time and even the term-limited, shoot-first, Republican-majority state governments haven't managed to overturn it.

      Mind you, I'm no fan of Uber, and I agree that there's plenty of liability to go around. I'm just saying you shouldn't be too confident in predicting what insurers will do, because policy and regulatory complexities mean where and whom will make a big difference.

    2. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Re: What if??

      CTP should cover that no?

  16. Sanctimonious Prick
    Devil

    Wow

    A lot of mixed responses.

    Don't think I'd ever use uber due to the insurance issue, but I think what they're doing is a good thing; pissing off the monopolists!!

  17. Seán

    Uderp

    In the real world we have licenced taxis which are insured and inspected. Unlike in America that doesn't mean they can get minor medical treatment for exorbitant fees and nothing. The drivers are tested before they can get a licence, they even check to see if they have a criminal record. The taxi is tested to a higher standard than the standard annual test on cars. The meter is inspected to make sure it isn't rigged. It is difficult for muricans to understand that laws and regulations are actually enforced and not just used for imprisoning poor people, apartheid, and oppression.

    This libertarian wet dream taxi service is as stupid as any other libertarian neocon notion. Subverting the rules and regulations which have been shown to be necessary for public safety just isn't a concept indoctrinated gun licking Americans understand.

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