More than 6,000 taxi and car-hire drivers, operators and licence owners across four states are taking on ridesharing giant Uber, as part of a major class action.
The case was filed in the Victorian Supreme Court this morning.
Nick Andrianakis, a taxi-driver, operator and licence owner, has been chosen as the lead plaintiff.
“My family has always been into taxis, my father drove taxis … my son drove taxis while he was at uni,” he said.
“But when Uber came to our shores illegally, like pirates, they broke every law, every regulation.”
He said he was forced out of business after Uber entered the Australian market and he remembered the night he had to walk away.
“It was a Friday night after an MCG game, I was outside the Swan Hotel and, normally, this is a very busy time for taxis. I was one of many other taxis outside the pub waiting for a fare,” Mr Andrianakis said.
“It was raining and I saw Ubers picking up and dropping off. Picking up and dropping off. I must have been there about an hour.
“My back door finally opened and a young lady got in and she said ‘look, I’m sorry driver, I’m not going far’ … I said ‘that’s OK, you got in my cab I’ll take you anywhere you like’.
“She said, ‘I would have got an Uber, but my phone’s gone flat’. And that was like a stake in my heart.
‘Uber’s conduct led to horrible losses’: lawyer
Uber Australia and its parent companies will face allegations it operated illegally and, as a result, had an unfair competitive advantage over taxi and hire-car industry participants who were complying with the law.
“Uber came in and exploited people by operating outside of regulations,” Maurice Blackburn senior associate Elizabeth O’Shea said in a statement.
“Uber’s conduct led to horrible losses being suffered by our group members.
“For those reasons, we are targeting the multi-billion-dollar company Uber and its associated entities to provide redress to those affected.”
The case covers drivers, operators and licence owners from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.
In their summary of pleadings, the claimants allege Uber entities knew their operations in Australia were illegal for a number of reasons, including that the company “adopted a policy to operate in any market where the regulator had tacitly approved doing so by failing to take direct enforcement action”.
State governments have had various legislative responses to Uber.
NSW established a $250 million “industry adjustment package” to compensate taxi drivers in December 2015.
In 2016, Victoria announced an overhaul of the taxi industry, offering to buy back licences at a small fraction of their worth.
Last year, the WA Parliament passed legislation to overhaul the taxi industry, including introduce a levy for taxi and Uber fares to help fund a taxi plate buyback scheme as part of wider reforms to the industry.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Uber said: “Uber has not been served with a class action claim.
“We understand there are media reports suggesting that Maurice Blackburn has filed a claim that will allege Uber operated illegally in Australia. Uber denies this allegation and, if a claim is served making it, the claim will be vigorously defended.
“Over 3.8 million Australians regularly use Uber as a reliable choice to get from A to B and governments across the country have recognised ridesharing as part of the transport mix.
“We are focusing our efforts on delivering a great service to riders and drivers in the cities where we operate.”
Lawsuit comes ahead of Uber’s US IPO
The case is being backed by one of the world’s largest litigation funders, Harbour.
Maurice Blackburn said the lawsuit could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The case comes as Uber prepares for its listing on the United States share market this month.
Some analysts have put Uber’s value near $US120 billion ($170 billion), but in documents filed to the US Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of the float, the company said it may never make a profit.
The initial public offering (IPO) is expected to raise as much as $US9 billion in what Bloomberg reported as being “one of the biggest listings of the year so far”.
The company’s competitor Lyft listed on the US share market in late March at $US72 per share, selling 32 million shares and raising more than $2.3 billion.
Last month, it was reported Uber drivers were being told they would be paid rewards of up to $14,000 to encourage them to buy shares and to keep driving for Uber, not competitors. Up to 5,000 Australian drivers were expected to receive payments.