Andrew Campbell, left, and Ned Moorfield of goCatch with a cab outside their office in Sydney. Photo: Rob Homer
It's just ticked past midnight after New Year's Eve and the throngs that turned out to watch the fireworks are now battling in unison to leave the city.
Then it starts to bucket down with rain.
Taxis are there to serve the entire community, not just those who can afford to pay more
How much extra would you be willing to tip a taxi driver to pick you up immediately and whisk you home?
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
A debate has broken out between established taxi networks and smartphone taxi apps over the new practice of passengers bidding against each other for a ride.
While one app founder says passengers are willing to pay a tip of up to $50 for prompt service and it helps them secure a cab, the NSW Taxi Council says such practices are discriminatory and has called on passengers to avoid entering a "bidding war".
Smartphone apps like Uber, Ingogo and goCatch allow taxi drivers and passengers to bypass the established taxi networks such as Taxis Combined to communicate directly with drivers to book and pay for cabs.
The apps allow passengers to contact drivers, track the cab's location and rate their drivers. GoCatch also lets passengers offer a tip when making a taxi booking.
"Most people don't always want to pay extra, which is understandable, however when it is really busy, that tipping feature does help you to get a taxi," GoCatch founder Andrew Campbell said.
"We're conscious of the access and equity issues that are involved in taxis; they are a form of public transport, but at the end of the day when you just want to get picked up and it's very late at night and money's not so much of an issue, using that tipping feature certainly makes a big difference."
But Taxi Council chief executive Roy Wakelin-King warned against the practice, and said passengers were essentially starting a bidding war for public transport.
While it was not illegal, it meant an elite group of people who could afford to tip more could receive superior service, he said.
"Rating passengers by their capacity to tip is discriminatory and inappropriate, as taxis are there to serve the entire community, not just those who can afford to pay more," he said.
But he was not against tipping taxi drivers at the end of a trip if they provided a good service.
“We do ask that passengers show some Christmas cheer towards our cabbies who are working hard in challenging conditions to get everyone home. A friendly word and a tip if deserved would be much appreciated," he said.
The suggestion to tip was one of 10 recommendations from drivers made in a survey goCatch conducted of 100 taxi drivers for the holiday season.
Other drivers' tips for passengers were to avoid looking intoxicated; to try to flag a taxi as it returns to the CBD from a suburban drop-off, such as by standing on York or Grosvenor streets in the city; to catch taxis returning from the Harbour Bridge; to share a taxi ride with a stranger heading in the same direction; and, somewhat controversially, to avoid using taxi ranks.
The survey revealed that some drivers would not normally go to a taxi rank if they had enough work on the street, because, at the rank, they were obliged to pick up the first customer regardless of their level of intoxication or the length of the fare.
Mr Wakelin-King said the advice to avoid taxi ranks was "highly irresponsible" and not in the interests of passengers.
“Taxi ranks, particularly supervised ranks, are the safest, most efficient means by which taxis can service large numbers of people. They are key to the NSW government's future transport master plan and the City of Sydney's traffic management initiatives,” he said.
He said taxi ranks prevented pedestrians from jumping out in traffic to hail a cab, minimised traffic congestion and allowed trained crowd management experts to efficiently manage passengers into vehicles.
“Any advice to avoid these ranks is highly irresponsible and not in the interest of passengers," he said.
GoCatch said 15,000 drivers had registered with its app across Australia, and more than 250,000 passengers has downloaded the app.
Mr Campbell said taxi drivers earned below the minimum wage, and performed a sometimes dangerous job.
"So for them to be getting a tip at Christmas time I don't think is such a bad thing at all," he said.
He also said younger people might be more willing to pay extra for instant service.
"Generation Y is famous for wanting everything right now and not having much patience," he said.
"But this is a tip, it's completely optional, you don't have to do it if you don't want to; you can just keep waiting for a taxi. But if you want to accelerate that process, then we do live in a free-market economy so it certainly does help to have a little bit of price elasticity to balance supply and demand."