Canberra Elite taxi drivers line up in Kembla Street Fyshwick. Photo: Graham Tidy
If you had trouble finding a taxi on Tuesday, it’s probably because most of the cabs were in Fyshwick.
More than 100 drivers and operators of Canberra Elite taxis went on strike over the introduction of a GPS guided booking system by Aerial Capital Group.
The new booking system was introduced on Monday without consultation with drivers and operators, who are calling for the company to revert to the old system, which they claim is better suited to Canberra’s small market.
"They say that it’s going to benefit the operators, it’s going to benefit the drivers and it’s a lie – it’s only going to support them," driver Mohit said, noting they have to meet a customer service code of delivering a cab within 10 minutes.
"They say this is working for other cities, I do agree, I know about it, but the problem is you don’t have enough work here in Canberra… this works in New York, [but] that’s different, we are just 380,000 [people in Canberra]"
The previous system allocated drivers a position in a queue for the area they were in, allowing them to be at the ready when they reached the top of the queue, or get out of their cab, stretch and get a coffee when they knew they had a wait.
They could also see what areas the jobs were coming from and how many drivers were around, allowing them to position themselves for the best chance of a fare.
But the new system leaves drivers in the dark and allocates jobs to the closest taxi based on GPS, leaving jobs to the luck of the draw and making drivers’ incomes unpredictable.
"If I am at the airport and I got a job from airport to Belconnen [and another driver] is over there waiting for half an hour for a job, I drop the guy off and because I am closer to the job, straight away the job comes to me. Some people are making $500 and some people maybe $90 and that’s not even guaranteed," another driver said.
The drivers say not only is the system unfair, it means more driving, fewer breaks, and could lead to taxis abandoning taxi ranks.
"In Barton there are motels and hotels, the driver will try to go to the hotel's main gate, because he knows if someone calls, and the distance is closest, the job comes to him," driver Masood said.
"I will have to go there and park illegally, because if I go to the rank, these guys around the motels and hotels will get jobs quicker than me and I will be on the rank without job… so who’s going to stay at the rank?"
Operators are unhappy too, with their drivers driving further in hope of getting lucky with a job, they are left with larger costs for gas and maintenance of the taxi.
By 10am on Tuesday, 100 signatures were on a petition to Aerial Capital Group asking them to bring back the old system, which represents a large chunk of the Canberra Elite fleet of around 350 taxis.
That was just the regular day shift drivers who had gathered outside the offices of Aerial Capital Group in Kembla Street, Fyshwick, with more due to join the strike.
They were asking to meet with company representatives, who had closed their office reception and told the drivers they must wait until 3.30pm for a meeting.
Aerial Capital Group did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.