The taxi industry has accused the ACT government of reneging on an agreement with its decision this week to release 50 extra taxi plates to the market over the coming year.
The taxi plates will cost $5000 a year to lease, with the first 10 available from March 1. The government says they will be allocated to people on the waiting list, first come, first served, with people only allowed one licence at a time. Currently 251 are waiting for a standard plate.
It is the first time the government has released taxi plates since 2013 and the move is set to bring further upheaval to the local industry.
The industry has been in flux since the coming of Uber in 2015, which ended the monopoly taxis had held on the local market. The government has also slashed the price of leasing taxi plates, from $20,000 in 2015, to $5000 now.
Private owners of taxi plates have been worried the changes would slash the value of their plates.
Aerial Capital Group managing director Mark Bramston said he was disappointed at the announcement by Regulatory Services Minister Gordon Ramsay that new plates would be released.
The move would hit the viability of taxi owners and drivers and had been made without consultation, he said. The industry had expected a review this year and decisions at the end of the year and Mr Bramston said he had requested a meeting with Mr Ramsay "to understand why things have changed".
But Mr Ramsay said the government had consulted, listened and "examined available market data".
"A staged release will allow existing industry participants to adapt to the changes in the market and ensure growing demand can be met," he said. "There is a substantial demand for unreleased government-owned taxi plates."
Until 1995, the government sold plates outright at auction for as much as $250,000. Since then it has been leasing them out instead.
About 215 out of about 310 plates are owned outright. Their owners have leased them to operators for about $20,000 a year but it is now much cheaper for operators to lease directly from the government at $5000 a year, putting pressure on the amount owners can charge.
The decision could also hit the cost of taxi plates for owners trying to sell them, although so far the introduction of Uber doesn't appear to have had a major effect, despite fears by owners that prices would plummet.
The government said three plates sold privately in 2016 for an average price of $231,000.
Demand for licences was strong and the airport had called for more taxis to meet demand and reduce wait times, the government said.
Canberra Taxi Industry Association head John McKeough rejected the idea that more taxis were needed at the airport and said taxi numbers were about right for Canberra's demand.
He conceded there had been only a slight drop in the price of plates since the arrival of Uber, although the market was slow. But he said putting more taxis on the road would hit incomes.
Mr Ramsay had joined the ministry "with the reputation of being a fair man" and taxi operators hoped to persuade him not to release all 50 licences, but to monitor the impact of the first 10, Mr McKeough said.
The NSW government announced $250 million in compensation for taxi plate owners last year, including grants of $20,000 each, another $142 million for those facing hardship as a result of new competition in the market and a $10 million buy-back scheme for licences. The ACT government has so far refused to pay compensation.