18 Mar 2016

Uber drives into Christchurch

4:36 pm on 18 March 2016

Online ride-sharing service Uber has arrived in Christchurch, but will be breaking the law if it begins charging customers.

Uber launched in the city today, using drivers without commercial drivers licences.

Uber is already available in Auckland and Wellington, but until now it has only used drivers with a commercial drivers licence.

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Photo: AFP

In Christchurch, anybody can drive for the company, as long as they pass a $20 criminal background check that also screens for driving offences.

The company approached Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss earlier this month about hiring drivers without a commercial licence in Christchurch, and was told it would have to wait while a review of the sector was carried out.

Today Uber went ahead anyway with a service that will be free for two weeks.

Mr Foss said he was not able to say how long it will take before an official decision was made on Uber's business model.

Mr Foss said as it stood, the company was not breaking the law.

"The advice I have is that because they are not charging, they're not because there is no commercial engagement there, but that will change if there is such engagement."

Uber said the two-week trial will let the government see how its ride-sharing model worked so it could make an informed decision about regulations around it.

Uber has caused massive controversy around the world by providing rides up to 50 percent cheaper than standard cab fares.

Taxi companies that have higher compliance and infrastructure costs argue Uber drivers have an unfair advantage.

Uber NZ general manager Oscar Peppitt said customers and drivers needed to register their details with the company.

He said that made it safer for drivers than a traditional taxi, which would often pick up a complete stranger off the street.

"Anonymous street hails are very, very dangerous game, but it's also a big part of the taxi market, roughly 70 percent. I think where Uber's technology really provides some safety opportunities is by making sure no rider is anonymous."

Mr Peppitt said Uber now had 6000 people signed up to drive for it, and 10,000 registered customers.

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