A taxi turf war appears to be erupting in Canberra with an established network accused of warning drivers not to use an emerging smartphone app which lets customers directly book and pay for cabs.
The ACT Government also says the founders of the app, goCatch, are not accredited to operate a taxi booking service in the territory.
A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government was "currently exploring options within the legislation to address issues around safety and fleet efficiency to address goCatch and other similar applications".
"A person is entitled to operate a taxi network in, or partly in the ACT, if the person is accredited under the regulations to operate a taxi network. goCatch is not 'free to operate'," the spokeswoman said.
However, goCatch co-founder Ned Moorfield said just over a quarter of taxi drivers in Canberra were using the app and it had already generated about $70,000 worth of business for local drivers in the last six months.
He said the accreditation issue was simply a matter of old legislation having to catch up to new technology. Only validated drivers were allowed to use the goCatch system.
Mr Moorfield said he had also met with the Road Transport Authority in the ACT to bring it up to speed with what goCatch was doing.
"We are just providing a technology platform to connect the driver with the customer," he said.
A spokesman for the Justice and Community Safety Directorate said the accreditation process ensured that anyone running a taxi booking service met requirements such as having undergone police checks, showing they were financially viable, using only licensed taxi drivers and meeting reporting requirements to government.
Mr Moorfield said the app was about introducing more competition into the field - it charges a 7.5 per cent surcharge on credit card transactions compared to 10 per cent by Cabcharge - but taxi drivers were already being pressured not to use it.
He claimed that Canberra Elite Taxis, run by the Aerial Capital Group, had made at least one fake call using goCatch to warn off drivers also on its network.
"The driver called to confirm the job, he got the base of Canberra Elite, they threatened the driver that goCatch was illegal and the driver could end up going to court," Mr Moorfield said.
The Canberra Times has asked the Aerial Capital Group repeatedly for a response but it has refused to return calls.
Mr Moorfield said goCatch charged drivers a $2.50 commission only when a fare exceeded $25.
He confirmed investors including James Packer and SEEK co-founder Paul Bassat had contributed $3 million to allow goCatch to expand.
Using its own data, goCatch has also compiled lists of the hardest and easiest suburbs in Canberra to get a cab, based on driver response, with Hume the hardest and Florey the easiest.
Mr Moorfield said part of the appeal of expanding in Canberra was the government's three-year trial to allow up to 25 taxi operators to work independently, outside the city's two taxi networks.
However, the government confirmed this week that while the trial started in March, 2012, only one independent taxi operator was participating in the trial.
There were 331 taxi licences in the ACT.
"The government is considering ways of encouraging other operators to join the pilot. Numerous operators have requested an accreditation application to join the pilot but have not submitted the completed application to the regulator," Mr Corbell's spokeswoman said.
The one driver participating in the trial, Victor Kowalski, who owns his own plate, suggested contractual arrangements with existing taxi networks had prevented other drivers from signing up for the trial.
"No less than 50 operators approached me asking for details," he said.
However, Canberra Taxi Industry Association executive director Tony Bryce said the reason more drivers were not on the trial was that they had not met the necessary requirements to be accepted.
"They have responsibilities to report very much on the same kind of things that a network has to report on - times, workloads, how they go about lost property, that sort of stuff," Mr Bryce. "I'm pretty sure a lot of them are sort of tyre-kicking to a large extent and want someone else to go first."
Top 10 hardest suburbs to get a taxi
5. City Hill
Top 10 easiest suburbs to get a taxi
2. Canberra CBD
Source: goCatch data