Following on from my opinion piece in the Herald Sun about the sharing economy, I joined Ross Stevenson on Melbourne's 3AW to talk about how services like Uber are changing established industries. Here's the transcript:
MONDAY, 19 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: sharing economy
ROSS STEVENSON: As we've been discussing this morning, there's an interesting article by the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, Member for Fraser, in the Herald Sun about Uber and the sharing economy. It's described as a ride-sharing service – I think that's quite deliberately chosen so that they don't use the word 'taxi' – and Andrew Leigh thinks it’s a great idea. Andrew, good morning to you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Ross, how are you?
STEVENSON: Good. I think John and I have both used Uber, as you have, from time to time. There are two Ubers though. It varies from state to state, I assume, but there are two Ubers in Melbourne. One of them is a VHA car, that is to say, someone who already has a licence that they've paid the government for. The other one, UberX, is someone who hasn't paid the government a cent. I know you think it's a good idea, but is it fair on taxi drivers who've paid half a million bucks for licence?
LEIGH: It's an incredibly tough area, I think, to try and get this regulation right, Ross. I certainly wasn't aiming to step in there with a final solution. But I do think that increasingly, smartphones are changing the way in which we travel, and I think services like Uber and Lyft are ultimately going to be here to stay. So the question for governments is whether they just stand back and say that the old regulations are perfectly fine, or whether they say that maybe we need to react to what's going on. For example, Uber does its own checks, but they're not the government checks and they don't have access to all of the government databases.
STEVENSON: But with any facility whereby the public are involved, surely there's an overriding responsibility on the government in respect of safety?
LEIGH: There certainly is. I think that's one of the classic trade-offs in the area of the sharing economy. You want to make sure that you're preserving all of the safety that you can. But you also want to make sure you're not turning your back on the opportunities both for drivers and for passengers, of having a deal which delivers cheaper fares to consumers and also has more of that money ending up in the driver's pocket.
STEVENSON: I'm just trying to think: if I were going to be someone who made money out of driving another citizen from point A to point B, would I go and make myself available to Uber where they just take a share of my fare? Or would I become a taxi driver which requires me to get a licence from the government which costs half a million bucks? I think there'd be a fairly easy choice.
LEIGH: Well, I guess the question is: if you'd already bought that licence, would you shift? One guy who drove me in an Uber car told me that he'd been a taxi driver for a while, and then he'd opted to shift over to Uber because he liked being able to stop the shift in the middle of the day, pick up his kids from school, take them home and then start the shift again. He found that easier to do as an Uber driver than as a taxi driver. For me, that was a surprising example of someone for whom Uber was the easier employer rather than being a taxi driver.
STEVENSON: It certainly does have its attractions. For example, if you book a taxi through a normal taxi company here, you ring up or you send a text, and say I want a taxi, and they book one for you. Then you sit and play taxi lotto as to whether it turns up or not. With Uber, you actually get to watch it on your phone. You get to see the car, where it is in its journey to you.
LEIGH: Exactly. That's one of the benefits that just didn't exist as a technology when we set up the taxi system. I suspect that that's a benefit some people appreciate, along with being able to see a picture of the driver and their name when you book the car.
STEVENSON: Just tell us quickly, Andrew, what sort of car turned up?
LEIGH: I got a Rav-4, I think it was.
STEVENSON: A Toyota Rav-4, with a fellow citizen. Andrew, thank you for your time this morning.
LEIGH: Thank you, Ross.
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