Uber vetting policy raises doubts over drivers’ criminal convictions and medical conditions
ANDY JACKSON / FAIRFAX NZ
Kiwi Uber users could be in cars with drivers convicted of serious crimes or who are medically unfit to be behind the wheel.
However, there are no moves to shut the company down.
The $60 million business refuses to comply with the New Zealand Transport Agency’s (NZTA) vetting policy and to date only eight drivers have been ordered off the road.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges has dodged questions about whether he thinks passengers are safe in Uber vehicles and says it’s for NZTA and the police to sort out compliance and enforcement.
While Uber is doing its own Ministry of Justice and driver licence checks before deciding if someone can drive – these tests aren’t enough to make them legal.
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Uber’s current operating model means NZTA “cannot give any assurance that the driver is medically fit and has been properly vetted for criminal convictions and other issues,” acting manager Leigh Mitchell said.
Under Uber checks there is no evidence of specified criminal convictions beyond seven years, traffic offending beyond seven years, medical fitness to drive, charges laid by police, history of behavioural problems and complaints to police, persistent failure to pay fines, past transport service related complaints or overseas criminal convictions.
Since April NZTA has issued 14 infringement notices and served 66 official warnings to at least 1700 Uber drivers on the road.
“We are proactively contacting individuals where we have information to indicate they are considering taking on work as Uber drivers, in order to ensure that they understand the legal requirements of providing passenger services in New Zealand, and the consequences of operating illegally.
“We have now written to more than 1,900 individual drivers, and we will continue to do so going forward,” Mitchell said.
While the transport agency has “no interest in standing in the way of innovation” it also has an obligation to “ensure that people carrying passengers for a living have been properly vetted for criminal convictions,” he said.
Bridges did not respond to questions about whether he would feel safe about himself or his family using an Uber.
Under the law all Uber drivers are required to have a P endorsement passenger carrying licence but when the Ministry of Transport failed to deliver changes under a promised regulatory review, Uber went rogue and since April has refused to comply.
Becoming a qualified compliant Uber driver used to be a process that took several months and cost up to $2000 – now it takes less than a week and costs $20.
Last month Bridges, a big fan of the innovative technology that Uber brings to transport, said to a certain extent the Uber business model allowed for this kind of law-breaking.
Asked on Thursday if he was concerned Uber still wasn’t complying, Bridges said he was “disappointed Uber is continuing to encourage divers who do not hold passenger endorsements to drive”.
“If they continue to do that, they will be prosecuted and face the consequences,” he said.
“The enforcement statistics show the agency is actively enforcing the rules and is taking an appropriately considered approach by first ensuring people involved understand their legal obligations, then issuing formal warnings and infringement as deterrents, and ultimately moving to prohibitions and prosecutions.”‘