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Hargreaves takes the big stick to taxis

By johnboy - 9 September 2008 58

The Canberra Times informs us of dire threats and imprecations to the taxi industry coming from John Hargreaves who is promising to keep releasing taxi licences until we finally get a decent service.

The taxi lobby reply with all manner of bollocks about how everyone whinges about taxis wherever they are.

Sadly for them most of us have travelled to other cities and we know that Canberra is the absolute pits for taxis.

Beating up on hated taxi services is popular because the taxis have been taking advantage of us for years and we know it.

Steve Pratt is leaping to their defence in his typically noble habit of taking the wrong side of any issue.

With average fares heading up over $30 it’s hardly unreasonable to ask for some service, and maybe a call on approach?

UPDATED Mr. Hargreaves has now put out a more conciliatory media release suggesting the Canberra Taxi Industry Association should try joining the Taxi Industry Advisory Group.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Steve Pratt’s courageous defence of Canberra’s loathed taxi industry is now available as a media release niggling at consulatation.

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58 Responses to
Hargreaves takes the big stick to taxis
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Skyring 4:59 am 02 Jan 09

An interesting discussion going on here, with some good comments by a few drivers or ex-drivers who know what they are on about.

Aurelius is right on the money with his numbers. It’s long hours, for very little pay. That’s one reason why it’s hard to find drivers. If the fares doubled, there’d be more drivers, but there’d also be a lot more complaints. A trip from Civic to Banks late at night would be over a hundred dollars!

We’d get a lot more “runners” late at night. And pensioners wouldn’t be able to afford to get out and buy groceries or go to the doctor.

On the flip side, it’s not a difficult job. I like driving around Canberra, and I feel like I’m performing a useful public service, getting drunk people home safely, little old ladies to the doctor’s, travellers to and from the airport. In between fares, I read books or surf the internet on my laptop.

The excellent Sydney cabbie blog “Man of Lettuce” is mentioned above. As is the (now sadly defunct) Blank Top Chronicles, describing the hilarious adventures of a taxi despatcher in between the tedium. There are a few blogs written by Canberra cabbies, including me. I’m at or and on the former site I have links to a dozen or so cabbie blogs.

jakez 4:52 pm 10 Sep 08

Ridiculously high licensing costs and Government price controls on fare’s. I think we’ve found the problem.

Hercsie 4:13 pm 10 Sep 08

Just an observation here – and those in the know , please correct me if I am wrong .

Didn’t the Government change the way that taxi plates were provided, instead of having to buy the plates for 200K – they can now be leased for 20Kper annum?

The two different models would drive very different behaviour in terms of how much time the cab is on the road?

Having to service a mortgage sized debt over a taxi plate would certaiinly encourage the owner to have it operating 24/7 not sure the same imperative would apply to a leased plate?

Walking around Palmerston most mornings I can count up to 6 cabs parked in driveways not going anywhere and this is around 7AM getting close to peak arrivals time at the airport.

jakez 1:06 pm 10 Sep 08

You can purchase tickets to the ALP Conference? I’m definitely doing that next time.

johnboy 12:51 pm 10 Sep 08

If they get me there cheaper than expected I’ll tip them a chunk of the difference.

I also reckon it’s cheap to ask for silver change.

Devil_n_Disquiz 12:49 pm 10 Sep 08

ok,,so those codes don’t work. Apologies.

Devil_n_Disquiz 12:49 pm 10 Sep 08

[i]One more thing – why do cabbies always seem to think they are entitled to a tip?[/i]

We don’t. Well..I don’t anyway.

[i] WE are the ones getting ripped off through the nose with cab fares (regardless of how much the drivers actually get).[/i]

The govt sets the fares and approves rate rises. Its nothing the cabbies, owners or aerial decide. However, is cabs the only industry where increases in pay should not be allowed ? Petrol goes up, food prices go up, rents go up, interest rates go up…everything goes up. Why shouldn’t the ability for us to make a better income also not go up ?
But we do live in a me me me world don’t we ? I’m sure if we all had our way we could catch a cab and get it for free. No one cares, really, if the driver is trying to make a living too.

[i]I wonder if cab drivers pay tips to their doctor, hairdresser, every restaurant they go to etc etc. They are driving you from point A to point B.[/i]

This one does. I work in a service area and appreciate when I get good service. I strive to offer a good service myself, but don’t expect a tip for it, but appreciate it when I do.

[i]In restaurants, I am always happy to tip if the food was brilliant and service A1. But a cab ride is a cab ride is a cab ride?![/i]

I am absolutely sure you could tell the difference between a cab that is cleaned and serviced regularly with a driver that speaks engleesh good and knows where he is going and the opposite. So,,I disagree, not all cab rides are the same.

tylersmayhem 12:28 pm 10 Sep 08

One more thing – why do cabbies always seem to think they are entitled to a tip? WE are the ones getting ripped off through the nose with cab fares (regardless of how much the drivers actually get). I wonder if cab drivers pay tips to their doctor, hairdresser, every restaurant they go to etc etc. They are driving you from point A to point B.

In restaurants, I am always happy to tip if the food was brilliant and service A1. But a cab ride is a cab ride is a cab ride?!

bigred 9:49 pm 09 Sep 08

yeah the Canberra cab industry is a worry. Hey anyone seen that fool driver in TX922, a tarago with those crazy fog lights on of a night time? He overtook me the other night – only problem is I was doing a right turn into a driveway. Wonder what other crap goes on seeing i don’t use them anymore? Gave up on them years ago because of some scary trips, meter constantly on wrong rate and double dipping the credit card.

Felix the Cat 9:15 pm 09 Sep 08

I haven’t needed to take a cab in years, always been unreliable AFAIK so I don’t rely on them. Needed to fly interstate one weekend, knew I couldn’t rely on a taxi to turn up so I drove my car to airport and parked it on the side of the road at Pialligo near the nurseries fully expecting a parking ticket but figured it would probably still be cheaper than a cab fare or parking @ Snowtown. Luckily I never received a fine so it was indeed cheaper than the above options.

I cannot understand why cab drivers don’t buy a GPS unit to help them get around. You can get brand new ones for <$200 – you can even lay-buy them if you are a penniless cab driver.

I also cannot understand why anyone would work for $9 an hour with no holidays or sick leave and all the other problems outlined by Devil_n_Disquiz. There are plenty of other jobs around, even for people with poor English skills or no experience or qualification, just look in The Canberra Times each Saturday.

MelonHead 8:54 pm 09 Sep 08

My experience as a commission driver (from a few years ago) leads me to say:

There are lots of ratbags in the industry. I remember times when airline crew could NOT get a cab, coz you knew where they were going (Civic or Dickson) They took their business elsewhere. As was the same for the train crew. Their job was even shorter, but you could usually do it several times to make up a good fare.

Then there was a…wipe drivers that couldn’t lie straight in their own bed. I couldn’t count the number of times a cab called their position as somewhere they clearly weren’t. How many times did drivers cheat on Cabcharge? DAS dockets, AMEX????

The list goes on.

Don’t be mistaken there are a lot of hard working honest dudes in the industry, let down by a minority. ESPECIALLY the dude who couldn’t navigate from the aiport to the Canberra Theatre! And was a shocking driver, and possibly spoke English as a third or greater language.

Lastly, the Guvmint has NO IDEA. Especially with Minister for Everything Hargreaves at the helm. Avast, I see the rocks.

Aurelius 4:55 pm 09 Sep 08

Tylers, Probably. I don’t know the first thing about pulling a beer, but I know how to drive. So when I’d move back to Canberra for only a few months at a time, it was an easy gig to fall into. I met some good passengers (including one Premier, several TV people, and even one of my heroes – which is what I mean by some shifts being high in job-satisfaction) but I met plenty of a***holes.
There’s a cabbie in Sydney who writes one of the best blogs I’ve ever read ( and he clearly uses his cabbing as fodder for his work, and is rumoured to have a book deal. So different people get different things out of it.

tylersmayhem 4:42 pm 09 Sep 08

Thanks for your last comments Aurelius. It adds a really good perspective, and you’ve answered my question.

While it’s easy to get a job doing it, surely you’d make more money pulling beer while doing less hours?

Aurelius 4:19 pm 09 Sep 08

Jakez, the usual arrangement in Canberra is a 50/50 split of the takings between the owner and the driver. Since an average shift of 12 hours will bring in about $400, that’s around $200 for the driver, or around $15-16 an hour. Subtract income tax & GST, and it’s around $10/hr. (75% of the time, you’re sitting around waiting for work, especially at the airport, or cab ranks. The last hour, you’re lucky to earn anything as you have to refuel, wash the car and tally up the paperwork)
If anyone soils the car, you are lucky to get them to pay the charge, and you don’t earn while you clean the car. You can’t clean the car enough to get rid of the smell, even if you get rid of the substance.
There is no leave. No shift penalties, sick leave or holidays. Public holidays mean a small increase, but since there’s very few customers, they’re often a waste of time – especially in January in Canberra.
(My figures are a few years out of date, so things may be slightly different now)
On the up-side, it’s an easy job to get into. It’s a relatively low-stress job and a good shift can be quite good (either good in monetary terms, or in job-satisfaction terms). You can often do a lot of reading during a shift, or listen to a lot of podcasts. There’s no boss leaning over your shoulder. You’re also paid at the end of your shift, not a fortnight later on a second Thursday.
But you’ll never get rich doing it. And there’s nothing like career advancement.

Being an owner means paying out enormous (tens of thousands) each year in rego, as well as *lots* of servicing for the car, plus a large amount for leasing or purchasing a plate. Because servicing takes the car off the road regularly, I think the only people who can prosper on that side of the business are mechanics, who can do that stuff themselves.
I knew some owners who had comfortable existences but they ran fleets of dozens of cars. And with their management abilities, they’d be getting a bucketload more if they were working in an office for some nameless government department.
Who’d do it? Not me. I only drove because I was in and out of Canberra, and it’s easy work to pick up and drop at will.

peterh 4:06 pm 09 Sep 08

Snarky said :

AG – cabbies don’t get to see the passenger’s destination until they’ve accepted the job off their screen. And once it’s accepted, that’s it – we can’t give it back except in extreme circumstances. We’ve committed to doing it.

and the ones that cruise the ranks don’t get anything as lucrative as the smart driver who used the old computer system. The new one seems to be a bit better, but it is a big learning curve.

Taxi driving allows you to pay the bills, get extra income and assist your family. Also a good gig if you like driving.

Multi’s are better, as some of the characters you pick up really make your day. Just because they are confined to a wheelchair doesn’t mean the brain isn’t there – some are absolute crack-ups, others are nasty pieces of work.

same as non wheelchair passengers, really.

you do it because it is a job. it pays the bills and keeps a roof over your head.

jakez 3:56 pm 09 Sep 08

Devil, you aren’t a license owner so I assume you work for a company that has bought licenses, and that you have some sort of contractual/rental arrangement with them.

Can you tell us a bit more about this arrangement, why you chose not to become a license owner yourself, and break down your costs of business a bit more?

What do you think is the main thing that causes you to have such a low effective wage?

p1 3:56 pm 09 Sep 08

…….but maybe I am doing it because if myself and others like me DID leave the industry,,,the general public would just continue to crap on about how bad the taxi industry is……

Unfortunately it might take exactly this before and implosion happens sufficient for the system to change.

Is it possible that the reason that taxis are a marginal business in the ACT the same as the reason other public transport is marginal as a business? Canberra is too spread out, the population very dependant on cars? There isn’t any high volume area which can provide enough work to fund the other jobs, like a City to Banks fair that leaves a driver with 30+ minutes drive back empty. If it wasn’t for the number of public servants and politicians (when sitting) the industry wouldn’t exist at all.

Devil_n_Disquiz 3:30 pm 09 Sep 08


I didn’t answer the question as I chose to go to bed instead. I’ve been up since 3am this morning came home for a few hours sleep, now I am heading back out to work till 4.30am. Hope this is ok,,,cos it sure pisses me off that I have to be out there that long just to make enough to survive on.

No embellishing. Afte tax/GST taken out,,average is about $9 an hour.

Why do I do it ?? Cos I am a shit for brains idiot who can’t speak english so cabs was all that was left (after Security and cleaning)
or maybe I am caught on that merry go round that is needing experience in the job(s) I would like, but can’t start getting that experience till someone actually gives ya a go.

Or…and this is stretching things a bit…but maybe I am doing it because if myself and others like me DID leave the industry,,,the general public would just continue to crap on about how bad the taxi industry is when they don’t know anything about it, except how to pick up a phone and call one.

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