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Uber tech bros set out to destroy taxi app, lawyers say

The company behind a taxi app is suing Uber over claims it illegally launched rideshare services in Australia with the intention of destroying the platform.

Uber "tech bros" set out to destroy an Australian taxi app when the company moved in on the nation's hire car market and started running an illegal rideshare service, lawyers claim.

Taxi Apps, the company behind the app GoCatch, is suing Uber in the Supreme Court of Victoria, claiming the rideshare giant knowingly launched UberX illegally in Australia with the intention of injuring GoCatch.

The company has also accused Uber of serious misconduct including corporate espionage and hacking competitor systems. 

Barrister Michael Hodge KC on Tuesday laid bare internal Uber emails he said showed the company tried to delay NSW authorities attempts to stop their criminal conduct.

When the since-defunct NSW Roads and Maritime Services handed Uber a warrant at their Sydney office for not complying with passenger transport legislation, staffer Zac de Kievit - now a Melbourne barrister - told colleagues, "we have flicked the kill switch", Mr Hodge said.

The rideshare giant then sought to not give up the documents the agency requested, instead looking at ways to drag out the process and considering quoting privacy laws as part of their argument when it was unclear if they were even relevant, Mr Hodge said.

"The available inference is that (pointing to privacy laws) is a charade to obstruct the investigation," the barrister told the court on Tuesday.

Uber also stepped up their political lobbying and sought to bolster their driver numbers in response to the threat, Mr Hodge said.

Court documents pointed to several media articles, including some authored by Uber Australia boss David Rohrsheim, in favour of the company's local operations.

Mr de Kievit effectively boasted about Uber's attempts to leverage their complicated corporate structure to evade the services' demands, and managers repeatedly ignored lawyers' advice to give over documents, Mr Hodge said.

Uber launched its ridesharing service before it was deemed legal in NSW and other states.

The barrister argued it was obvious the rideshare giant's purpose was, at least in part, to "destroy" or "crush" GoCatch in the words of the company's "tech bros". 

He pointed to emails from Mr Rohrsheim, who said in May 2013 launching UberX was his "end game".

"But taxi is where it's at for now. Have to win that market to arrest GoCatch's growth - they have (10 times) our active vehicles, and (two times) our weekly volume of bookings," Mr Rohrsheim wrote.

An Uber manager wrote in an email: "GoCatch is the reason we're launching taxi in Sydney. F*** those guys."

Uber developed a spyware tool called "Surfcam" to steal GoCatch drivers' data including their names and phone numbers, with Mr Rohrsheim telling a colleague on July 31, 2013: "We are aggressively cold calling (without disclosing how we got their number) and won 56 of (GoCatch's) drivers."

There was no reason to suppose Uber stopped exploiting GoCatch drivers' numbers after July 31, Mr Hodge told the court.

The rideshare giant launched Uber Black - a high-end driver hire service - in Sydney in late 2012, and Uber Taxi in Sydney in 2013 in an attempt to slow GoCatch's momentum, lawyers claimed.

The problem was that the company launched UberX - a peer-to-peer ridesharing service - in NSW in April 2014, Mr Hodge said.

Peer-to-peer ridesharing did not become legal until December 2015 in NSW and later in other states.

Uber had refused to concede "the absolutely obvious", which was that their drivers were engaging in illegal conduct at the time, Mr Hodge said.

The barrister conceded GoCatch had some management issues.

The civil trial before Judge Lisa Nichols is due to run for 10 weeks.


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