Gov't urged to establish regulatory regime for UberFriday, July 23, 2021
BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
THE Government is being urged to establish a regulatory regime for ride-sharing service from California-based company Uber, or possibly face a situation where those who are now bound by the requisite licences to provide hackney services opt to turn in those licences and operate under the Uber umbrella.
Opposition spokesman for transport Mikael Phillips said this and other adverse repercussions could impact the transport sector if local operators in the same space as Uber continue to be subjected to a highly regulated regime, while the American company is under no such obligation.Phillips, speaking at yesterday's Rotary Club of Kingston virtual meeting, said the arrival of Uber has brought into sharp focus issues plaguing the sector and the urgent need for the regulations to operationalise the new Road Traffic Act. The Act was passed in 2018, but the regulations which are needed to apply the new provisions remain in limbo.Phillips made clear that he had no opposition to Uber and welcomed its investing in Jamaica, but, “anybody coming into our space ought to be regulated by the laws of this country, and I don't think Uber is any exception. We have a responsibility to protect Jamaican people by all means, so we shouldn't hesitate on this one and buck-shuffle around; we need to get the regulations put in place so that Jamaican consumers who are using the Uber platform are covered by the laws of our land”.Added Phillips: “What Uber is saying to us is that this is the new paradigm (in transportation), and our regulatory framework needs to quickly catch up. So it is pushing us quickly to change the way that we do business.”
The Opposition spokesman said the initial warnings from Transport Minister Robert Montague, when Uber entered the local market on June 15, that operators must get the requisite licences to provide the service, were simply a “nine-day wonder”.
Phillips stressed that the Government must confront the issue now as hackney carriage operators are facing unfair competition in a highly regulated market.“Uber is not a taxi company; it's a company with many services including food delivery, couriers, and freight transportation. Uber doesn't have a huge transport depo filled with vehicles for all to see; instead, it is a digital platform over which ride-sharing is arranged, paid by electronic transactions and charges less than existing services, for example, an airport drop-off in Kingston is about two-thirds of traditional service provider costs…you can see that the competition is on,” he pointed out.The transport minister, said Phillips, should cease “regulatory blindness” when it comes to Uber as it cannot be beyond the scope of regulatory agencies such as the Transport Authority to find ways to resolve the issue.Furthermore, he said there is no complaint body that passengers can turn to if there are accidents or other problems with Uber, yet another reason for a regulatory framework.
At the same time, he said local operators must step up their game, and provide modern, safe and cost-effective service to Jamaicans.Reacting to Uber's entry into the local market, the Insurance Association of Jamaica said last month that insurers welcomed any development of transportation services, but that all operators should comply with local laws, and have a level playing field. The association said standards for licensing, insurance, driver qualifications and all other requirements should be met by all providers.
“Having been prevented from raising fares for eight years, and then having faced a catastrophic loss of demand caused by COVID, the Jamaican taxi industry should be protected from unfair competition,” the association said.
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