Smartphone apps for private hire vehicle bookings “illegal”, says NSW govt

A new smartphone app launched in Sydney that allows customers to book private hire cars instead of taxis may be illegal according to the New South Wales government.

Uber and Dash, two new apps that have soft-launched in Sydney, connects customers to private hire car drivers who can then book their services on demand. Unlike popular taxi booking apps like GoCatch, Ingogo, Taxi Pro and myTaxi, Uber and Dash allow customers to connect to private hire car drivers instead of licensed taxi hires.

Private hire vehicles differ from licensed taxis in that they need to be pre-booked and do not allow pick-ups from the street. According to the Passenger Transport Act, it is also required that the fare be agreed in the booking process for private hire vehicles. However, Uber and Dash are alleged to be operating in a legal grey area as cars linked to these apps can be booked minutes in advance of the pick-up and do not adhere to an agreed fare during the booking process. While Uber and Dash list standard fares on their app site ($8 base far with an additional $3.25 per kilometre for speeds over 18 km/hr and $1.25 for speeds below 18 km/hr), the prices aboard these private hire vehicles vary based on distance travelled, speed and time in reality.

A Transport for New South Wales spokesman said: “The use of any technology to work out fares based on speed or time by a hire car driver operator is an offence. Should a complaint be lodged against a driver or operator about the use of the equipment, Roads and Maritime Services has powers to investigate and prosecute drivers and operators for using this technology.”

Taxi booking apps already available on smartphones like GoCatch claim that Uber and Dash are blurring the distinction between taxis and a private hire vehicle. Both Uber and Dash maintain that their apps are based on legal advice and uphold the sound nature of their business.