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16th of July 2018

Economy



Uber approved in the Northern Territory, but it might not be coming to a town near you

A photo of an Uber map in the Darwin and Palmerston area.

Ridesharing company Uber will enter the Northern Territory market for the first time — meaning it now has a stake in every capital city in Australia.

Key points:NT becomes last Australian jurisdiction to receive UberGovernment won't back down on "excessive" licensing feesTaxi industry questions viability of two ridesharing services

The company previously abandoned plans to set up shop in the NT, arguing new regulations introduced by the government in 2017 were too costly and the barriers for entry too high, particularly for drivers who used the app as a form of top-up income.

While Uber agreed with requirements for background and safety checks and vehicle inspections, it said the vehicle licence fee of $300 — three times the amount recommended by a steering committee to the NT Government — was too high.

However, in a surprise backflip, the ridesharing service has announced it now intends to launch in the Darwin and Palmerston area next month.

"In the last year, we've seen the app opened nearly 90,000 times [by people in the NT] trying to get a trip," Uber's Queensland and NT State Manager Alex Golden said.

"The government has been incredibly receptive to rideshare reform.

"So we're committed to finding a way to make it work."

Rival Australian ridesharing company HiOscar has been operating in the region since January.

Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Eva Lawler said the government had not reduced licensing fees in a bid to incentivise ridesharing platforms.

"That has been the level playing field that we put in place when the legislation came out," she said.

"I'm sure Uber has done its due diligence and realised it's a great opportunity."

Uber entry 'a race to the bottom'

Under the NT Government's framework to permit ride-booking services to operate, taxi and Uber passengers pay an extra $1 per trip.

The cost of owning a taxi licence has also dropped by 75 per cent since the changes were introduced, with the annual fee in Darwin reduced from $20,240 to $5,000.

For drivers in Alice Springs, that fee has dropped from $16,445 to $4,000 — however, the ridesharing company will not operate in the Red Centre for the time being.

The current cap on the number of taxi licences in Alice Springs and Darwin has also been retained.

Uber's Alex Golden (L) and Eva Lawler (R) launch the ridesharing service.

However, former Taxi Council chief executive Les Whitaker said the introduction of a second ridesharing service to the Territory was a "race to the bottom" for quality of service.

"Every state, the state and territory governments who decided to let Uber in, say they'll try to create a level playing field," he told ABC Radio Darwin.

"Their idea of a level playing field is to basically throw away the book, to lower standards so they arrive at the lowest common denominator."

However, Ms Lawler said the Northern Territory economy could sustain two ridesharing services, despite its reliance on revenue from the taxi industry.

"To me it's about competition, the world is a changing place," she said.

"When you look at new industries, things like Air B'n'B, you can either put your brakes on those things or take those opportunities.

"Young people, Territorians, are expecting those opportunities."

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