Fels pushes for major taxi reforms
It is predicted the reforms would put an extra 300 to 400 cabs on the road. Photo: Angela Wylie
TAXI drivers would get 55 per cent of the fare box and the value of taxi licences would be slashed to as little as $20,000 a year under sweeping industry reforms being considered by the Baillieu government.
It is predicted the reforms would put an extra 300 to 400 cabs on the road.
The architect of the proposed reforms, the former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission head Professor Allan Fels, said a lack of competition in the Victorian taxi industry exploited drivers, and meant that customers too often received bad service. ''It's time we had an industry that puts the public first and not last, that ceases to be a closed, anti-competitive shop that is regulated with the interest of the likes of taxi networks, Cabcharge and licence holders - 80 per cent of whom have never driven a cab,'' Professor Fels said.
Among the report's 139 recommendations are that prospective drivers with less than five years' driving experience would be required to pass a new Melbourne knowledge exam. There would also be exams for the regional centres Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.
Drivers would receive a 55 per cent split of the fare box, down from the 60/40 split proposed in the draft report. Professor Fels said this was a concession to taxi operators.
Cabcharge's 10 per cent credit card surcharge would be halved.
Professor Fels said anyone who had bought a taxi licence at a high price in the order of $500,000 might be eligible for government compensation.
''Current licence owners will have a piece of paper on their mantelpiece that can be rented out for $20,000 a year for eternity. The same piece of paper could be sold for between $250,000 and $330,000,'' Professor Fels said.
The Taxi Industry Inquiry final report, Customers First, was tabled in State Parliament on Tuesday. The Baillieu government has given the public a January 30 deadline to respond.
Reaction was divided on its release.
Industry group the Victorian Taxi Association said the recommendations were ''unsustainable and will hurt taxi drivers without delivering better outcomes for our customers''.
Spokesman David Samuel said Professor Fels had been dismissive of the industry's arguments - ''including wide-ranging economic analysis and advice that demonstrated real concerns with the inquiry's work''.
But taxi driver Mohamed Mohamed said the proposed reforms were ''long overdue''.
''I think the drivers are being disadvantaged and the system was only to look after the operators and licence holders,'' said Mr Mohamed, who drives a wheelchair-accessible taxi.
He said the prospect of receiving 55 per cent of the fare box was ''a win-win'' for drivers and the public. ''It is going to improve the driver's wage and the driver would not refuse a short fare.''
But owner-driver Hosni Samaan said the industry could not afford an influx of new taxis.
''We don't need any new taxis on the road, there's too many of us,'' said Mr Samaan, who leases a licence for a ''green-top'' peak service taxi from the state government.
Taxi occupancy rates in Melbourne are below 30 per cent, and drivers complain that there is not enough work during the day.
Professor Fels has proposed dropping fares 5 per cent during weekdays and increasing them 20 per cent on weekends.
The average driver wage is about $13 an hour.