Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson, National technology editor, News Corp Australia Network.
CONTROVERSIAL transport giant Uber is preparing to make its most aggressive push into Australia yet, revealing plans to launch its ride-sharing service in 15 regional towns simultaneously before the busy Christmas period.
The unprecedented move, which will target an additional 1.3 million Australians, will see Uber cars hit the roads in regional areas of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, including Tamworth, Shepparton, and Rockhampton, starting in early December.
But the push comes at a challenging time for the multibillion-dollar company, with new ride-sharing rivals emerging in Australian capitals, and following the release of a transport union survey detailing driver complaints about low pay, harassment, and assaults.
Uber first launched in Australia in November 2012 and now operates in 23 towns, including all capital cities, servicing more than 3.8 million Australian users.
Uber Australia and New Zealand cities head Natalie Malligan said the country’s 15 new Uber locations were chosen for their unfulfilled demand as thousands of people in the selected towns had tried to use the ride-sharing service and discovered it wasn’t available.
“This year alone we’ve seen more than 280,000 people in these cities open the app, looking for a ride, so we’re excited to respond to the demand,” she said.
“The message is pretty clear that people want more options for affordable transport so they can access the same opportunities as people in the big cities.”
Ms Malligan said the towns had also been selected as places where ride-sharing could “complement the existing transport options” and provide accessible travel for users without cars.
Uber will hold a series of town hall meetings to sign up new drivers.
“The key reason we’re doing this is not just for Uber to gain access to an additional 1.3 million Australians but to benefit the local community,” she said.
Uber will hold a series of town hall meetings over the next month to sign up and process new drivers in the regional towns.
But Ms Malligan admitted the services would take time to catch up to the reliability and speed of their urban counterparts.
“Generally, what we see is over time … it becomes similar to a big-city experience,” she said.
“The expected time to get a ride will be slightly longer than in a larger city with a larger population, but what we’ve seen in other regional cities where we’ve launched is that we can still offer a reliable service.”
The company’s major Australian announcement comes just one week after the Transport Workers’ Union and Rideshare Driver Co-operative launched a damning survey of 1100 Uber drivers, in which six in 10 reported earning below the average rate of $16 per hour, one in 10 reported being physically assaulted on the job, and six per cent said they were sexually assaulted.
Uber’s expansion also comes as the company fights to remain dominant over cashed-up newcomers including Ola, Taxify, and DiDi.
UBER’S NEW LAUNCH TOWNS include; Horsham, Shepparton, Surf Coast, Warrnambool, Bundaberg, Gladstone, Hervey Bay, Mackay, Rockhampton, Bathurst, Coffs Harbour, Orange, Port Macquarie, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga.