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Committee for Geelong's Weekly Addy Opinion Piece - Disruptive Innovation

Last year, Malcolm Turnbull observed that the Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, innovative and creative, "we can't be defensive, we have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it."

The take up of innovation has always been important in the history of Australia but there is a danger that we will be mired in endless debates about the regulation of disruptive technologies. Uber has disrupted existing taxi services around the world with varying responses from conventional taxi companies and governments.  One state government which has worked its way through the challenge of enabling society to benefit from transport innovation, while at the same time ensuring there is a balance between innovation and safety, is the USA State of Virginia. 

During the Committee for Geelong's trade mission to the USA, we visited Virginia and learned about the licensing procedures established to enable companies like Uber and Lyft to operate legally.  Effective from 1 July 2015, new legislation defines Uber and Lyft as "transportation network companies" (TNC) and ensures that vehicles used to provide TNC services: must be a personal vehicle; have a safety inspection annually, even if the vehicle is registered in another state; cannot seat more than eight people including the driver; be lawfully titled and registered in Virginia or another state; may not have been issued a certificate of title, either in Virginia or another state stating the vehicle is salvage, non-repairable, rebuilt or the like; must be covered under a TNC insurance policy meeting the requirements of the law of Virginia.

TNC drivers must be licensed drivers at least 21 years of age, have a background check done by the TNC for whom he or she drives and may only use the vehicle which has been registered for TNC use. Street hails are prohibited, as are the soliciting of ride requests or the acceptance of any ride request which has not been pre-arranged by the app. TNC's are also not permitted to operate on airport property without the consent of the airport owner.

As Victoria contemplates how to embrace disruptive technology, it is vital that best practice from other states and countries is taken into account.  It was encouraging to see the ACT Government take a nation-leading role by moving on point-to-point industry reform by announcing it will introduce safety-based regulation for ridesharing. This type of approach by the ACT Government is very positive and shows that there is a sensible way forward for ridesharing in Australia.

Uber chose Geelong as its inaugural Australian second-tier city to establish in.  It now has over 100 driver partners in our community, including many re-trenched workers.  As Geelong transforms, our region must welcome global companies that provide diverse employment opportunities.  This debate is about how Australia manages disruptive technology, and not about Uber.  Such changes are progressive opportunities for innovation and imagination, and they are here to stay.

Rebecca Casson is the Committee for Geelong Chief Executive Officer. Follow the Committee for Geelong on Twitter @Comm4Geelong.



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