Has Canberra Cracked the Uber Code?

Nic Crowther
Wed 30 Sep

Well, it seems the ACT has done it again!

Not satisfied with pushing the boundaries on euthanasia, heroin trials and marriage equality, the diminutive centre of our democracy seems to have found a way to manage global ride-sharing app, Uber.



It has been announced overnight that from 30 October, Uber will be allowed to operate in Canberra, albeit with a number of conditions attached:

  • All transport operators require police and registration checks
  • Taxi ranks and hailing of cars remain exclusive to Canberra Elite taxis
  • Taxi licenses will be halved this year (to $10,000) and reduced to $5,000 by 2017.
  • Drivers uniforms are scrapped.

Also, companies allowing only pick-ups under one system will be forced to supply workers compensation for drivers, and ‘surge-pricing’ – a long-time feature of the Uber experience – is banned during emergencies.

This change is an interesting step in accepting the existing realities. For the uninitiated, many cities in Australia currently have licensed taxi drivers collecting passengers through the Uber app, despite it being technically illegal to do so. In Sydney, hire yourself an Uber Taxi and it is likely to be a generic cab such as those that would collect passengers from a rank. Upgrade your ride to Uber X or Black, and the vehicle is likely to be a luxury vehicle with leather seats and may even feature ‘HC’ plates.



The point to consider is that the ACT’s Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, was very quick to get on the front foot and negotiate with Uber prior to their entry into the market. Even in late 2014 – just after his ascendency to the top job – Barr was publicly stating that Uber could become a viable part of the ACT’s transport mix.

This was important, as it gave government the freedom to engage and negotiate with Uber to allow time for a legislative framework to be developed in order for the company to operate legally in the market and avoid much of the negative publicity it has generated in other cities.

On the face of it, this looks like a pretty reasonable arrangement where all parties get to take advantage of legislative changes. It shows that, if they want to, governments can be flexible and responsive to the demands of a rapidly-evolving technology environment.  The ACT has set a standard for legislative regions around the world, and it will be interesting tod see who else picks up on the model.