New reforms could hurt taxi drivers

CHANGE FOR THE BETTER?: Mick West has been driving taxis in Wangaratta for about five years and he is waiting to see how the finer details about his job might be impacted under an industry reform. PHOTO: Luke Plummer

TAXI drivers’ livelihoods could be ripped out from underneath them under new State Government industry reform.

Under the reform package a larger slice of taxi fares will end up in the pockets of drivers.

But while attractive on the surface, it will effectively force taxi owner/operators behind the steering wheel more, to reduce costs.

Taxi owners also fear the slashing of licence fees to $3400 in country areas will open the door to new operators, flooding existing markets.

It would fundamentally strip the financial fabric from existing companies, which in Melbourne have paid more than $300,000 for a taxi licence in the past.

“The reduction in the value of owning a taxi could be quite disconcerting for a lot of people,” Wangaratta Taxis co-owner, Rick Thewlis, said.

“I don’t know what situation country people are in compared to city drivers, but naturally there is concern for people operating them or for people who were expecting a return to boost superannuation plans.

“We need to have some discussion with the Victorian Taxi Association and see what their thoughts are and whether there might be some compensation – we don’t know.”

Taxi drivers have expressed concern about an increase in their slice of a fare from 50 to 55 percent.

Mr Thewlis said it could turn out that they might not have as much work because this would leave the owner of the taxi 45 per cent and the cost of all the outgoings to run a taxi.

He said this includes fuel, mechanicals, insurance, fees and registration.

“Owners of taxis do a lot of driving now, but they may have to do more to cater because most can’t take a reduction in pay.”

The reform essentially aims to put more taxis on the road, including taxis that cater for people with a disability in rural areas.

Transport Minister, Terry Mulder, said the Taxi Industry Inquiry, which informed the reform, found the general demand for services in regional areas far outweighs the supply of taxis and hire cars.

He said the inquiry also found that taxi services in country Victoria are failing to keep pace with the growing and ageing population, and there are real shortages of specific vehicles for passengers with disabilities.

But Mr Thewlis said there was not a shortage of taxi transportation to service Wangaratta’s needs.

“It is certainly not an issue in Wangaratta and we have catered for the ageing population by bringing in more maxi vans,” he said.

“We had one about seven years ago and since then we’ve increased it to three.

“They are out there catering for the wheelchair, aged and disabled all the time.”

If Wangaratta Taxis is meeting the demand when a Taxi Services Commission ‘consumer interest test’ is carried out under a reform, then new licenses will not be granted in Wangaratta.

Tim McCurdy (MLA, Murray Valley) said the commission will not compromise the local business in the interests of consumer.

“For example, if a regional centre currently has enough taxis now, they won’t allow another licence into the town because this could make the existing taxis unprofitable,” he said.

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