Friday, December 15, 2017

Uber is operating illegally in Trinidad, says minister

...and law enforcement should know this

United States-based Internet taxi service, Uber, is operating illegally in Trinidad, Works minister Rohan Sinanan confirmed yesterday.

Sinanan said the matter was now one for law enforcement, since the company is operating outside the law of the land.

Asked whether the Ministry of Works had made a report on the issue to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service on the issue, Sinanan said “no” and that the situation should be one that the law is aware of.

Uber, an on-demand service that allows customers to request private drivers through applications for iPhone and Android devices, announced that it was coming to Trinidad in October last year.

The service hit a snag shortly after launching in January this year, when the Ministry of Works noted that private hire taxis were in fact illegal according to local traffic laws.

Chapter 48:50 of the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act, states “no person shall drive on any road, a taxi registered as such, unless he is the holder of a taxi-driver's license issued to him by the Licensing Authority under these regulations”.

Uber takes on for hire private persons with vehicles, who are them dispatched from nearest the location of the customer making a request through the app.

The Express has been told by numerous people that Uber is operational and “very reasonable in cost”, charging a base price of $20 out of Port of Spain.

Sinanan said yesterday he has also been told by persons who have used the service that it is up and running.

He said, however, that since the last meeting between the parties months ago, Uber's local representatives have yet to come back to the ministry with a plan that addresses local traffic law requirements.

Since Uber's 2009 start up it has dodged taxi regulations in a number of countries based on its argument that it is an online service provider and a not a taxi cab company.

In an interview with the Express in January, Uber's communications associate for Central America and the Caribbean, Julie Robinson-Centella, maintained this position.

Sinanan said yesterday the company's presence in Trinidad at this time is typical of how it operates - going into a country, establishing its name, hiring drivers and then getting out and operating through the Internet.

“There is no Uber registered in Trinidad that you can go to and get information from,” Sinanan said. “The law enforcement agency has to find out what is going on.”

But Sinanan said traffic laws aside, Uber was also adding to a drain on foreign exchange, as a percentage of fees charged for the service go back to the company in the US.

“There are countries that have shut them down,” Sinanan said yesterday.