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Uber not set for Townsville after all

Despite media coverage earlier this year and ongoing rumours, controversial and popular ridesharing service Uber says it has no current plans to enter the Townsville market.

A spokesperson from Uber has confirmed that the ridesharing company has no plans to expand into Townsville, to the dismay of customers and organisers alike.

“Currently, Uber only operates in one regional centre, Geelong,” said the Uber spokesperson. 

We are aware that regional centres suffer from issues such as unemployment and we think the introduction of Uber could alleviate some of these problems.”

Uber’s move to Townsville was reported in February by the Townsville Bulletin, where local organiser Matt Wilson said that he coordinating drivers for an expected launch in April and that the company was “definitely coming”.

However, a representative from Uber denied such a decision had been made, stating that “we would like to launch in more regional centres but we are waiting on a regulatory response from government.”

“We are hopeful that the government recognises the positive impact of ride-sharing and will work quickly to introduce sensible, safety-based regulations as quickly as possible,” said the spokesperson.

Uber has risen globally, surrounded by a sense of infamy creating controversy wherever it spreads. The greatest outcries against the ridesharing service have come from taxi companies lamenting the service’s aversion of taxes and charges traditional taxi companies are obligated to pay.

Sharing economies remain somewhat untested in regional areas, with concerns over whether small populations can sustain the business. However, Townsville residents believe the introduction of Uber would inject some much needed competition.

“I think it would be welcome here because it would increase competition and taxi’s would need to lift their game,” Townsville-based DJ Alex Oram said. “The taxi service in Townsville is horrid. There are always huge line ups during lock out and taxis cost way too much compared to larger cities.”

“I don’t think there are enough taxis in Townsville to cater for the demand,” James Cook University student Isabel Bowrey student said. “The other night I was at the airport, getting off a late night flight and needed to catch a taxi home. I ended up waiting half an hour because they all had jobs.”

When rumours of Uber’s expansion into Townsville began, general manager of Townsville Taxis Angela Rheeders told the Townsville Bulletin that the company would welcome competition, provided Uber was subjected to the same taxes and conditions of all other taxi services. With a clear desire for competition in the market, many residents remain hopeful that Uber will move into the Townsville area.

The tech-based sharing economy has proven to be hugely popular in the Australian market through services like Uber, AirBnb and Freecycle. Sydney-based experts on shared economies, Collaborative Lab, estimated that 53 percent of Australians participated in some form of collaborative economy in the last year.

Despite huge success of peer-to-peer business models in metropolitan areas such as Melbourne or Sydney, regional areas and sparse populations remain relatively untested.  

Click here for more on Uber, startups and the sharing economy. Photo: Townsville City by John Skewes.

About Thea Halpin