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Is the end in sight for the Canberra Cabs monopoly?

By johnboy - 5 March 2006 24

The Canberra Times (who have an excellent amount of interesting local stories this Sunday) have a good story by Markus Mannheim on plans to fine the generally unloved Canberra Cabs if their services don’t improve.

Canberra Cabs defence of itself is really quite amusing…

Canberra Cabs chief executive Mark Bramston attributed the recent problems to chronic staff shortages, unprecedented demand, a difficult roll-out of new technologies, and ongoing roadwork on Kings Avenue, which has impeded traffic from the airport.

Difficult new technologies? Meaning they stuffed up? And the Kings Avenue roadworks which I cross every evening in rush hour seems to be going quite smoothly to me. But wait, it gets better.

But he defended the company’s service record, saying it processed more than 200,000 jobs a month and had a complaint rate of just 0.02 per cent.

And how are we to make our complaints, wait for hours on hold? If .02% are putting pen to paper and writing a letter then we can only wonder how many are quietly seething.

He said the company was investing in new technology to help cope with peak workloads, but had struggled to recruit enough staff for its call centre

Sounds like a clear cut case of failure by management.

Most delays were because the growing use of mobile phones and phones that withheld their numbers, which could not utilise the automated booking system, he said.

Hmm, that one’s only been coming for 20 years.

Mr Bramston also claimed impatient customers had contributed to the system gridlock by double booking jobs.

Ah, right. It’s the customers to blame. The customers of which only .02% are unhappy, because they’re so overjoyed with the dealings with Canberra Cabs that they want to call up again!

Apparently rather than bringing in competition (as Steve Pratt rather sensibly suggests) the government is looking to hit Canberra Cabs with fines. An interesting approach when the company appears to be suffering from under-investment.

The ABC is also covering the Steve Pratt plan. Competition isn’t the only answer however, the taxi licence fees might be a great little earner for the government, but they’re always going to cripple the service given to the public at their current rate.

What’s Your opinion?

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24 Responses to
Is the end in sight for the Canberra Cabs monopoly?
johnboy 5:28 pm 06 Mar 06


While the excuses are legion and reasons are many at the end of the day a city of this size is unusual in having a commercial monopoly taxi provider.

And it’s also unusual in the crapfullness of the taxi service.

The two might not be related, but maybe it’s time to try something else?

One thing that i’m willing to bet would be fixed if we had competition would be “Call on approach”.

And that’s just one on a very long list of things that competition would sort out very fast in the customer care stakes.

Johnl 4:34 pm 06 Mar 06

Most of the previous comments on this subject display a fundamental ignorance of the Canberra Taxi industry and the way it works.

Firstly – Canberra Cabs is not a company as most people understand it, it’s a co-operative. That co-operative is made up of all the individual taxi owners who are all these seperate small businesses, all in competition with each other. Believe me, introducing another “company” into the town and duplicating the existing despatch infrastrure won’t add to this competitive invironment….. and a likely outcome in overloaded times will be that people will ring BOTH phone numbers, and multiply the chaos and ineficiencies.

Secondly – All those individual small businesses are staffed by people who are struggling to make ends meet in a commission only (no jobs = no pay), low-pay, high-risk (including physical risk) invirionment. Virtually every driver works at least five 12hour days per week – no sick leave, no holiday pay, no security, if they have the smallest accident in the cab they pay the excessive excess the insurance companies won’t pay. And when you drive the distances these people do day after day the odds of you making a human error (or being involved in someone elses’) is pretty high. So these drivers are not being lazy. It can be nothing short of heartbreaking to not get a job for a couple of hours in the small hours of the morning and finding out it’s a prank call and there’s noone there. Then you go back onto the end of the queue and it can be another hour and a half before you get another job. So, believe me, there’s plenty of competition out there……

I know I’m talking here about quiet times, but that is one of the points people miss in this argument. That the number of taxis in town is worked out as a balance between the number the town can support in the quiet times and the overloaded times.

So, just putting more cabs out there isn’t the solution.

And, adding a new “company” into the town probably isn’t the solution either.

The answer to both the specialised disabled cabs letting customers down and the solutions for peak/overloaded times where customers are let down probably are not able to be solved with taxis. The taxi system doesn’t nead to be changed. There needs to be ANOTHER way to get people to and from peak load areas to common destinations that runs ONLY at peak times. And there needs to be a service that supliments the health system in town that looks after the transport needs of the town – and people who are frail or disabled are probably not going to be the most well off around so we’re probablt talking of government subsidies here.

Then the taxis can do what they do best and the drivers and owners are a chance to make some money (albeit in a work environment we all can only look forward to with Commonwealth Government Goverment workplace “reforms” – but that’s another subject).

Other observations I can make include:
Another operator in town would add to the chances of jobs being stolen by a competing taxi from the other co-operative.
People don’t realise just how hard it is for drivers to predict where they’ll be at ANY time on any day, making pre-assignment of early booked jobs TOTALLY impractical. A driver might want to be at the Airport or Bruce stadium at a certain time, and a customer will hop in and, as is their right, take the driver to ANY part of the town or keep them waiting for ANY period of time. So, jobs that are time-booked ALL come into the despatch system at the same time and are bid on by the closest car, and that driver isn’t told where the job is going, because that might lead to drivers cherry-picking the “best” jobs and leaving others lamenting. So it ends up being irrelevant weather someone has booked last week, or an hour ago.
At busy times the jobs that cars/drivers get almost always take them AWAY from other work. So if there are heeps of planes arriving at the same time the people who get the cabs take the car/driver to the outer suburbs when they are needed again at the airport, half an hour away. This also happens in many other circumstances across the industry.

There’s many other complexities which I won’t bore you with but I hope this adds more informed comment to this discussion.

bonfire 1:23 pm 06 Mar 06

yes its like telstra and telstra countrymile

Maelinar 1:18 pm 06 Mar 06

Areaman posted the ownership details of Elite cabs something like 2 weeks ago. You’ll find that they are just the same as the orange type, only painted silver and seemingly more ‘executive’.

wonsworld 12:20 pm 06 Mar 06


andy 12:08 pm 06 Mar 06

there is another company providing taxis in canberra now… ? I forget what they are called, but i’ve seen them…

bonfire 10:52 am 06 Mar 06

The gummint should allow another company to operate cabs, and rid us of this tiresome monopoly.

im yet to see any instances where private sector monopolys offer benefits to the public, except to the monopolists shareholders.

i think one of the major flaws is that in any proper service delivery framewrok you need to factor in surge capacity.

this taxi capacity surge occurs every time parlt sits.

what about a licensing scheme where some taxis only operate for a limited period of time – so you could pay x amount of dollars for a taxi plate which operates only when parlt is sitting.

of course if we had a decent mass transit public transport system then the people who resort to taxis because the bus is unreliable could avail themselves of that option and lessen demand on taxis.

Maelinar 10:02 am 06 Mar 06

On Saturday I noted two ACTION buses driving past the Airport, and lamenting the fact I didn’t have a camera on my person, drove on.

(the buses were full of Raiders, doing some sort of funrun, and drove straight past the airport).

So we’ve established that ACTION can actually drive to the airport, now it’s just a matter of getting them to stop there.

Ari 9:53 am 06 Mar 06

I wonder if those drivers complaining about extra plates had thought a better service might actually stimulate public demand.

I know I’ve stopped using Canberra Cabs as you just can’t rely on one showing up in time (assuming you can get through the booking service first).

I reckon more people would factor Canberra Cabs into their plans if they could rely on the service.

johnboy 8:28 am 06 Mar 06

Jube, the thing about opening a competitive environment is the government doesn’t have to worry about how it all works.

Set up a regulatory framework to govern minimum standards and then let investors decide for themselves what model is going to work.

ideally they’d split the despatch system off from the taxi’s, but it’s not like duplication will kill us.

Thumper 7:59 am 06 Mar 06

hehehe… No ACTION buses to the airport remember….

steveu 7:29 am 06 Mar 06

lets see if the pollies are willing to try and get home from civic on a friday or saturday morning, when its the only public transport available…

nyssa76 6:38 am 06 Mar 06

It’s bad when you’ve booked a cab for your disabled mother – in advance – and then you have to drive from Tuggeranong to Gungahlin to take her to her appointment in Dickson.

The cab arrived just as we were returning from the appointment – over an hour later.

I don’t know about you but if you book a cab, you’d expect a cab to be allocated to you at that time as you are the one paying for it.

jube 5:52 am 06 Mar 06

I have worked in the transport industry for the last 13 years, 6 of them with Canberra Cabs both driving and in the base (where I currently work). I am not going to claim the system is perfect (far from it), but here are a few points to ponder.

1. Competition – a great idea in theory: I say this because of 2 reasons. One, to open an effective competitor to the current system, you would require a minimum of 50 taxis to cover the Canberra area – it offers its own challenges operating across such a spread out town. When you can find someone willing to invest the $15 million or so to buy the plates and set up a dispatch centre, let everyone else know. The second reason is there is only so many fares to go around: Yes, there aren’t enough cabs in Parliament weeks, but take a look at any CIty cab rank on a Monday night in a non-sitting winter week ( I guarantee you won’t have a problem finding one then – or January for that matter). If more cabs are on the raoad, each car amd driver (who are on commission) makes less money, quality of cars drops, quality of drivers drops, industry goes to hell (who’s that saying Sydney cabs?).

I could argue these points until I am blue in the facew, but the reality is another 10 – 15 cabs on the road would reduce load across the board, but the 40 being spoken about is too many, and another company would flood the market with disastrous results.

LlamaFrog 5:32 pm 05 Mar 06

I’ve yet to find a phone system that is worse then canberra cabs new system. Even telstra is better. I have yet to get through to a person in less then 10 minutes.

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