ACT News

Too many taxis and too few public servants - less in the bank for Canberra cabbies

Taxi drivers say these are dark days for taxis in Canberra - too many cabs and public service cuts, mixed with economic uncertainty, have made people thrifty and the passengers stop coming.

It used to be when you drove a cab in Canberra, the deal was simple - you got fifty per cent of your earnings and the rest went to your employer.

Canberra taxi drivers from left,  Amit Khajuria, Gurtejwar Sing and Daniel Van de Zandt.
Canberra taxi drivers from left, Amit Khajuria, Gurtejwar Sing and Daniel Van de Zandt. Photo: Melissa Adams

The cab owner pays for registration, serving and petrol; all the driver had to do was drive the cab and count the money.

But Canberra cab drivers said everything changed in the past five years and, as public service cuts began to bite and more cabs hit the roads, business has decreased sharply.

Taxi driver 30-year-old Daniel Van de Zandt said he has been driving for four years and in that time his weekly take had dropped about a third.

"When I started it was easier to make money and now the pay has gone down significantly, for the hours working. In a car, when I started, I was doing six days a week and I could be earning $1400-1500 a week for a 12-hour shift," he said.


"Now it probably could be $400-500 less a week, or more."

Daniel said before you can drive a taxi in the ACT you have to have had your licence for more than a year, be over 21 and have a language certificate from CIT to prove you can speak English.

He said you also had to buy your uniform from the company, with shirts costing about $60 a pop and jackets setting you back more than $100.

"Then you pay to do a course, which is actually quite expensive. When I did it four years ago it was under $500, and that's just the theory test, then there's the driving test that was $125," he said.

Compared with some Canberra drivers, Daniel has barely started - 78-year-old Mick Simon has been driving a taxi in the ACT for 43 years, coming to Canberra straight from working on the Snowy Hydro Scheme in the 50s.

He said over the past four decades he'd had at least three Prime Ministers, two Opposition leaders and a number of politicians pass through his cab.

"I had that McMahon fella before he died, I had him in the cab. He was like a lost brother, he was too friendly, very talkative. But most of them are okay with taxi drivers," he said.

Mick said business in the capital was the worst he'd seen in four decades behind the wheel.

"What's happened is that before it was a co-operative society, cab drivers, and now it's become a company. I sold my cabs. Since it's become a company they only worry about  how they can make money, they don't worry about service any more," he said.

Gurtejwar Singh has driven a taxi in both Canberra and Melbourne, for seven years all up, and he blamed the government for issuing new taxi licenses when there were already too many.

"The government is putting in a lot of new taxis because they earn a lot of money, so taxis are very expensive, wages are going down, taxes are increasing," he said.

"It used to be cheap to take a taxi [but] these days people just want to drive their own cars and sometimes [even] to the airport."

For drivers who started during the lean years, driving an ACT taxi has been difficult. 30-year-old Amit Khajuria started driving this year and found it hard going.

With a wife at home and a dream of one day owning a restaurant, Amit has driven 12-hour shifts in a taxi sometimes earning less than $100 a night.

"It's hard. We're just sitting around waiting for a customer. When it's cold, nobody wants to go outside at night after 8pm.  Sometimes we make only $50 in a day despite sitting in a car for 12 hours. It depends how busy it is," he said.

Amit said he doesn't want to keep driving for much longer, another six months at the most.

Mele Hamilton is one of Canberra's few female taxi drivers. She has been driving a taxi for her husband Ted for more than 32 years and  says she'll keep going till the doctor tells her to stop.

Despite often driving the night shift on Friday and Saturday, she said she rarely feels unsafe on the streets of Canberra.

"Ninety-five per cent of kids, they're alL right... they hop into the car and they're screaming and I say, 'Hey, hey, keep calm, there's no need for that,' and they say `sorry'," she said, laughing.

"The kids are fine, the mature people they are the ones who give you a hard time. The mature people hop in the car and they think you're only a taxi driver."