The Department of Transport is in talks with Uber which could open the way for private car-owners to operate as taxis.
The international taxi provider which connects customers with drivers through a smartphone app is seeking to introduce the UberPop service they have in the US and on the continent.
The company plans to add, within a year, 200 further jobs to the 100 currently employed in an international call centre in Limerick. It operates in more than 350 cities across 60 countries.
Uber mainly provides its services in this country through taxi companies, but wants to expand by getting private car owners with spare capacity to offer seats to its clients.
Andrew Byrne, public policy executive, said they have entered talks on the issue with the Department of Transport.
He said: “UberPop ridesharing is regulated differently.
“In the US or continental Europe you can apply to be a Uber driver. You get the same background check, the same insurance. But this [UberPop] makes it slightly differently and enables us to grow it quickly and makes it easier as the barriers to entry are slightly lower so you get more people into it.
“We certainly have had discussions with the Department of Transport about a feature for Ireland. This country needs innovation in transport.
“We find, particularly outside of Dublin, in rural areas, often people don’t have the same number of transport options to get around as other people do, because the public transport doesn’t quite fit, or people can’t make money doing it.
“We feel there is a real gap in the market there,” he said.
However, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said a total deregulation of taxis in this country — enabling private car owners provide hire for pay services as in the US — will not happen, unless approved by the Department of Transport.
The minister was speaking yesterday at the official opening of Uber’s new centre of excellence, on Thomas Street, Limerick. He said a lot of new industries like Uber, which operate on mobile pone apps, go under the term ‘disruptive technologies’.
“It’s is a bit premature to have this discussion (here). These new industries impact on existing industries and operate like AirBnB. It is exactly the same type of technology.
“The Department of Transport is in charge of the taxi industry and any change that takes place would have to be driven by the department and the minister.”
He also confirmed Uber was in talks with the department. “I don’t know how far those conversations have gone. Uber are not free to start some new pilot scheme without the authorisation of the department.”
Fianna Fáil has criticised Uber for not paying VAT in this country.
But Mr Mr Noonan said Uber is a US company with its European headquarters in Holland.
“For their activities in Limerick they will have to be tax compliant in Ireland and profits they make will be subject to the 12.5% tax in Ireland.”
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