Taxi operators cautious of inquiry recommendations

THE draft recommendations outlined in the long-awaited Taxi Industry Inquiry released last week has elicited a cautious response from country taxi operators.

A number of the recommendations, which propose significant changes to the state’s taxi industry, may not be welcomed by country Victoria operators.

“The country system works very well,” Traralgon Taxis manager Andrew Lane said.

“I don’t think (the inquiry committee) understands how the system works here; you can have as many cars as you like but you can’t make a living and the system may become unviable and further fragmented, and customers will be worse off.”

Mr Lane said his biggest concern was the “country fallout from the metro inefficiencies”.

“The taxi system there is a disgrace; here the majority of businesses are locals and owner-operators,” he said.

Victorian Taxi Association councillor for Gippsland region Carmen Giddens said her observation was the Fels Inquiry was essentially “city-centric”, although she had a few concerns for country areas.

“We’re all in this together. (But) for country areas, we don’t have the acute shortage (of drivers) Melbourne taxis have,” Ms Giddens said.

Last year, local taxi operators met with panel members of the inquiry; a meeting from which local delegates said they walked away “disenchanted”.

Ms Giddens said some of the issues raised at the last meeting was the disparity between LPG prices in the country and metropolitan areas, which impacted on the businesses’ viability, licencing fees and the lack of State Government support for the taxi industry.

“There has been no fare increase in four years and our costs have skyrocketed; Victorian taxis are 30 per cent behind every other state in terms of fares and revenue,” Ms Giddens said.

Meanwhile, Taxi Industry Inquiry commissioner Dr David Cousins said one of the most significant recommendations for regional areas was to address a lack of availability of taxis, something which Mr Lane has denied.

“We will also make it easier for people to obtain licences, providing a better career path for drivers; licencing operation is restricted in country areas,” Dr Cousins said.

Another highlight of the inquiry for regional Victoria was to provide more flexibility in the operation of zones, which could mean “much greater potential for competition between operators in Latrobe Valley and much less restrictions on what operators would do,” according to Dr Cousins.

Some of the recommendations include a 20 per cent rise in fares on Friday and Saturday nights, higher fares for short trips, cheaper long-distance trips, cutting licence fees, a rise in driver’s share of fares to 60 per cent from 50 per cent or less and expansion of concession fares to include people over 80.

With regard to the proposed fare increases, Dr Cousins said it was “not as significant as reported”.

“This is a recommendation particularly applicable in metro areas; we want to see more opportunity for discounting fares to take place. Instead of setting a fixed fare, we want to allow operators to discount under a maximum fare level,” he said.

Meanwhile, the VTA issued a media statement last week saying it would work with members in the coming weeks to review the draft recommendations and provide a detailed response.

“In broad terms, the VTA supports reforms around some of the operational areas of the industry, including fare structuring and driver remuneration,” it said.

“However, we are concerned about moves to dilute the role of booking companies. Attempts to increase the number of taxi licences will result in more expensive cabs and lower service standards”