Canberra’s private taxi plate owners have formed a new association and renewed their push for compensation, saying the ACT Government’s release of cheap plates has left their members facing financial ruin.
Chair of the new ACT Taxi Plate Owners Association, Petar Ivanovski says the unscheduled release on 25 January of 30 plates for lease at $5000 a year for up to six-year terms had further flooded the market and will mean 120 permanent plate holders who had paid up to $300,000 a plate will see their incomes and the value of their asset slashed.
He accused the Government of using the industry disruption caused by ride-sharing service Uber as an excuse to manipulate the market, and in effect go into competition against his members.
Mr Ivanovski said members, who lease their plates to taxi drivers, had seen their incomes halved as operators renegotiated their leases when the Government dropped the price of new plates.
“Overnight they’ve dropped them down to $5000. In a month, rentals for private plate owners went from $400 to $200 a week. Now they’re going to go even further,” he said.
Mr Ivanovski said his members felt betrayed by a Government that had promised to look after them.
He said many of his members had bought the plates to fund their retirement, with some investing their superannuation, and the impact had been devastating.
Melville Leslie, 60, of Bega, bought a plate for $260,000 in 2002 and has seen his modest income halved in recent years. He has been offered only a fraction of what he paid for the plate by potential buyers.
The stress has taken a toll on his mental health and his marriage, with Mr Leslie on medication and no job prospects.
“We’re fighting against the Government, we’re fighting against the operators, we’re fighting against each other because someone has just wiped out our retirement. There’s nothing underneath us now.”
He said that at the time a taxi plate seemed a safe, Government-backed investment, that was recognised by banks as an asset.
“It was as decent as buying a property and not being a landlord,” he said. “We found overnight that our property was worth only $40,000, if you can find someone to buy it.”
His once annual income of $25,000 is down to $10,000, and he is worried that this latest release will see his operator again renegotiating. “I have nowhere to go,” he said. “My monthly remittance comes in on 17th, and every 15th and 16th I go into a sweat waiting for a phone call from my operator.”
He said his wife had applied for a pension but Centrelink had said they had $260,000 in assets, despite the plates’ real value being so much less, a situation Mr Ivanovski said was a common one for members in need of income support.
“My members are suffering, I’ve got people having difficulty putting food on the table because they can’t get the pension, and they’re 70,” he said.
The Government has so far rejected claims for compensation, such as NSW’s $250 million package, but the association again met with officials on Thursday in a bid for mediation so their members can be adequately compensated.
Mr Ivanovski will await a Government response but in the meantime, the association will mount a public campaign to highlight what he says is the Government’s ‘socially and morally indefensible’ position, including a demonstration at the Legislative Assembly on 19 February supported by the Canberra Liberals.
Although taxi plate owners insist that the Government’s policy has nothing to do with Uber, the new plates at reduced rates began to be issued from 2015 – the same year Uber was launched in the ACT – going down $20,000 to $10,000 and, from 1 August 2016, $5000.
The Government released 50 plates for lease in 2017, 15 last October and, according to Mr Ivanovski, the next release had been due in March.
The Minister for Regulatory Services, Gordon Ramsay, has said the staged release of plates would allow operators to adapt to the changing market conditions, while meeting demand for new taxi licences.
But many in the industry believe this is unsustainable in such a small market, already under pressure from rideshare services.