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Crime Stoppers 'conflict' in taxi app battle

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Three grabs of the GoCatch app which lets users pay by PayPal and soon credit card.

Three grabs of the GoCatch app which lets users pay by PayPal and soon credit card.

A campaign to convince people to use “Crime Stoppers-approved” taxi booking apps has backfired after it was revealed the key spokeswoman for Cabcharge and the NSW Taxi Council is the company secretary and director of Crime Stoppers NSW.

The campaign, running on the back of hundreds of Sydney cabs and in the media, is now the subject of complaints to the NSW Ombudsman, NSW Fair Trading Minister and the ACCC.

Taxi industry vested interests such as Cabcharge and the NSW Taxi Council, which is run out of the Cabcharge head office, have been waging a campaign against apps such as GoCatch and Ingogo, which allow drivers and passengers to bypass taxi networks like Taxis Combined for bookings and payments.

Ingogo provides Android smartphones with magnetic stripe readers to drivers allowing them to accept credit cards without using the Cabcharge system.

Ingogo provides Android smartphones with magnetic stripe readers to drivers allowing them to accept credit cards without using the Cabcharge system.

University of Sydney economist Peter Abelson, who has extensively researched the taxi industry, said that of the 10 apps promoted in the Crime Stoppers campaign, the majority were controlled by Cabcharge-owned Combined Communications Network and its close business affiliates, which in turn control more than 80 per cent of the cabs in Sydney.

The apps that are not aligned with the major taxi networks are an emerging threat to Cabcharge's virtual monopoly and have been portrayed as unsafe for passengers and even illegal.

Most people believe Crime Stoppers NSW is a NSW Police agency. Its logo is on every police car and media release and appears at every police press conference. NSW Police Force also runs the Crime Stoppers NSW anonymous tip line and appoints several of its directors, which include Assistant Commissioner Peter Barrie.

"We believe [the campaign] has been drivenby Cabcharge to protect their virtual monopoly" ... Ingogo managing director Hamish Petrie.

"We believe [the campaign] has been drivenby Cabcharge to protect their virtual monopoly" ... Ingogo managing director Hamish Petrie.

But Crime Stoppers in NSW, and elsewhere in Australia, is a not-for-profit company that relies on licensing fees from private industry for most of its revenue.

Companies pay to use the Crime Stoppers logo in their marketing. These include security screen maker Crimsafe, which prominently displays the Crime Stoppers logo on its website next to its own logo, and lock maker Lockwood, which has also used the Crime Stoppers brand in its advertising.

While Crime Stoppers campaigns always have a crime-prevention angle, they further - and in some cases are driven by - commercial interests.

The ad running on the back of cabs around Sydney, part of a campaign paid for by the NSW Taxi Council.

The ad running on the back of cabs around Sydney, part of a campaign paid for by the NSW Taxi Council.

Tracey Cain, who has been quoted as a spokeswoman for the NSW Taxi Council since at least 1999 and Cabcharge since at least 2003, has been a director of Crime Stoppers NSW since July 2011 and was appointed the company secretary in September this year.

Her company Australian Public Affairs still handles public relations for both Cabcharge and the NSW Taxi Council. It also handles lobbying for both organisations as well as Crime Stoppers NSW, according to the federal government's lobbyist register.

A manager of Lockwood owner Assa Abloy is also a director of Crime Stoppers NSW.

Passengers can communicate directly with the driver and vice-versa.

Passengers can communicate directly with the driver and vice-versa.

Peter Price, director and chief executive of Crime Stoppers NSW, confirmed the NSW Taxi Council had paid a fee to attach the Crime Stoppers brand to its campaign and that Ms Cain had brought the opportunity to the Crime Stoppers NSW board. But he said Ms Cain was excluded from meetings about the deal.

Dr Abelson said there still appeared to be a conflict of interest.

“It's using a community group or having the front of a community group to protect certain parts of the taxi industry,” he said. “It's all a bit devious really and certainly not very transparent ... I thought it was a NSW Police Force activity and I'm sure that is the public perception.”

Ingogo managing director Hamish Petrie - who like competitor GoCatch was not given a chance to obtain Crime Stoppers endorsement before or after the campaign kicked off - has filed complaints with bodies including the NSW Ombudsman, ACCC and NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts.

He said in the complaints, seen by Fairfax Media, that the Crime Stoppers campaign was misleading and deceptive and the organisation was “masquerading as a public agency while doing the bidding of its commercial sponsors”.

Mr Petrie said drivers using his app must enter their taxi plate, validated mobile number and secure password to log in to Ingogo, and taxi drivers' licences and authorities were scanned in person at Ingogo's office.

Much of this detail is provided to the passenger, who must also provide identifying details, and the entire journey is logged using GPS.

“Ingogo can actually assist police and regulators with more detailed information than the [incumbent taxi] networks,” said Mr Petrie.

“It is blatantly clear their fear campaign against apps such as Ingogo is misleading, deceptive and a serious conflict of interest. We believe it has been driven by Cabcharge to protect their virtual monopoly.”

GoCatch and Ingogo have received hefty NSW and federal government grants, respectively.

At an event last week to launch GoCatch's payment system to rival that of Cabcharge, NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner came out in support of the taxi booking apps.

He told the Australian Financial Review that taxi networks should put up or shut up and should focus on delivering “better value to users”, who would then decide who would be successful.

In November, Fairfax Media reported that the O'Farrell government was considering smashing the virtual monopoly in the taxi industry by removing the law forcing taxi operators to join an “authorised” radio network, most of which are owned by Cabcharge and Premier. A decision is expected early next year.

Cabcharge and its various interests have been heavily lobbying the government against any changes to the status quo, arguing Sydney would look like Kampala, Uganda, and public safety would be in jeopardy.

In its latest available financial reports, for the year ended June 30, 2011, Crime Stoppers NSW earned $138,000 in licensing fees on top of $40,000 in government grants and $20,043 in sponsorships. In 2010 it generated $297,000 in licensing fees.

The organisation's operations are run by NSW Police and it does not have any employees, but in the 2011 financial year it paid Price $72,667 for his services as chief executive, plus $85,685 to Price's company First Light Group Pty Ltd.

NSW Police would not comment on the relative safety of the various taxi booking apps, but said in the last financial year there were 25,000 “valid contacts” to Crime Stoppers resulting in more than 17,000 intelligence reports being created.

It said the information obtained through Crime Stoppers directly led to the arrests of more than 270 people, the seizure of more than $25 million worth of drugs and the recovery of more than $500,000 worth of lost property.

NSW Police said information received through Crime Stoppers directly led to the arrest of two women for drug offences at Sydney Airport, including one with 1.5 kilograms of cocaine in her possession.

It said Crime Stoppers information had also led to the seizure in 2010 of a rare marmoset stolen from a wildlife park on the south coast, and in 2009 provided a crucial lead resulting in the arrest of a man wanted over a violent assault of a female police officer at Kings Cross.

39 comments

  • The Crime Stoppers 'brand' has been tarnished, thanks for bringing the strange set-up of this group to my attention. NSW Gov't should either take control or alternatively cease contact.

    Reminds me of when Westfield (through various middlemen) set up a bogus community group to limit the redevelopment of a shopping centre in Strathfield NSW in 2000-2001.

    Commenter
    Don
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 17, 2012, 1:13PM
    • It's no wonder current taxi service stinks.Cabbies average earnings are less than half the minimum wage. Long hours and Low pay.
      Cabcharge uses a raft of deceptive tricks to disguise the exploitation of drivers 80% of whom lease the cab from holders of licences valued around a half million.
      Smartphone apps are a secure (both driver and passenger details are logged) way of improving service and rewarding good drivers.
      Ask any Sydneysider......Its great to watch your cab instantly heading to you on a GPS map, to know how much your trip will cost and be able to text exactly where you are waiting.
      Roll on the change.

      Commenter
      vincento
      Location
      Newcastle
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 2:02PM
    • If cab drivers are earning less than the minimum wage, they should seek alternative employment that allows them to earn a decent wage.

      Commenter
      Shelly
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 2:36PM
    • Seems that drivers pay a lot of their earning as payment for the licence plate, as the supply of these is limited. Certainly passengers are paying higher fares in Australia, Sydney especially than other countries, so the drivers don't benefit here.

      The licence plate system is dysfunctional, owners are reaping monopoly profits, both thru drivers and increased face value as supply is limited. This is much like real estate - no land release and no redevelopment limits supply so as demand grows the price (including rents) increase.

      Answer: Issue more licence plates. Gradually of course, otherwise the complaining will be too loud.

      Commenter
      Ron
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 2:59PM
    • Shelly,
      You obviously have no experience with the so called Jobfinding agents.
      Many many drivers are well qualified and hold qualifications including degrees.They often need the job to pay immediate expenses. There are teachers,publicans,engineers as well as migrant with low level skills.Good drivers take time to learn their customer and road skills but are not well rewarded.
      Critics complain that some drivers smell.
      Try a 12 hour shift in a cab that is not allowed to run air conditioning at a rank.
      Deoderant can just as offensive.

      Commenter
      vincento
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 3:01PM
    • Precisely. I don't see how I can trust "CrimeStoppers" any more. The idea of reporting a crime to them seems completely wrong, they've lost all my trust.

      Commenter
      Cameron
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 6:14PM
  • Ha!
    So Crime Stoppers is successful because lots of people rang them to report crimes. As almost everyone assumes that the Crime Stoppers number IS the Police I'm not surprised.

    Commenter
    nfs
    Date and time
    December 17, 2012, 1:39PM
    • Another Ofail Fiasco...new election please.

      Commenter
      Toxic Tony
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 1:41PM
      • What on earth has this got to do with the State Government - current or past?

        As noted in the article, the current Liberal Government *is* attempting to unravel the rorts and rot that were implemented under Labor with the taxi industry (no surprises there, probably a reasonable guess at the next ICAC investigation).

        But blaming teh state government for the actions of a commercial organisation is just ludicrous!

        Commenter
        rob1966
        Date and time
        December 17, 2012, 2:25PM
    • The blue and white checked logo all point to NSW Police. Well it used to. I'm disgusted. Is this another Labour scheme to siphon cash ?? I should call crimestoppers and report this theft.

      The taxi industry should be deregulated and the first step toward that is removing cabcharge's monopoly. Then deregulate the bus industry which is also very heavily domonated by Cabcharge. The NSW Govt "GIVES" buses to that company each year worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Not leased, just handed to them. Name another industry where that happens ???

      Commenter
      Paul
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 1:47PM

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