Sorry cabbies, it’s your own fault: expert, punters

Thousands of taxi drivers took to the streets on Thursday in their fight against ride-sharing company UberX, but experts say the shoddy service by the taxi industry helped to create the new competitor.

More than 500 taxi drivers, operators and licence holders shut off Spring Street in Melbourne and rallied on the steps of Victorian Parliament demanding the Labor government crackdown on UberX, which they said were running an illegal, unregulated service.

The protesters gave Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews an ultimatum: shut down UberX or regulate it so they were on a level playing field where Uber drivers had to pay the same fees as taxi drivers.

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At the same time, Sydney drivers protested the ride-sharing service outside New South Wales Parliament.

Taxi drivers said Uber was costing their livelihood.

“Behind every driver is a wife, a mother, children, this is destroying families,” Victorian Taxi Families (VTF) spokeswoman Sandy Spanos told the crowd.

“The taxi industry places around $1.4 billion into the state and federal coffers via tax and GST. What does UberX contribute? Nix.”

‘Look in the rearview mirror’

But University of Canberra director of the centre for labour market research, Phil Lewis, disagreed, telling The New Daily that consumers were migrating to the Uber service due to a “huge dissatisfaction” with taxi drivers and the industry.

“They are very overpriced, they overcharge with credit card facilities and people are adamant they don’t get very good service,” he said.

“On the radio today they heard from young women who didn’t feel safe with the current taxi system for various reasons.

“There is a general dissatisfaction with the quality and the prices, and what’s happened is Uber has stepped in and found a niche here.”

taxis5infographic-100915-thenewdaily1latestUberX​ is a smartphone app that pairs riders with registered “partner drivers” who use their own vehicles as informal hire cars.

Professor Lewis said it was now on the state governments to act.

“They have been sitting on their hands for years and should have cleaned up the taxi industry years ago,” he said.

“Uber have basically [come in and] wrecked the joint, they have smashed the model.

“Everyone has a story about taxi drivers, you say take me somewhere and you end up somewhere else. I have no doubt about how unreliable they are.”

But he sympathised with the drivers, saying they were the ones feeling the pinch, not the taxi owners.

“You can understand taxi drivers … are clearly angry … because the are having to compete in an industry where their fares the costs are fixed – they get a pretty bad deal really and it’s the taxi owners who get the cream of the profits,” Professor Lewis said.

He said the advent of smartphones made it possible for Uber to pair two parts of the market together – people who were already employed and needed some extra work, with people who wanted a reliable and safe lift to their destination.

He said this model was inevitable and predicted Uber was here to stay.

Taxi drivers want UberX to be regulated.

Taxi drivers want UberX to be regulated. Photo: Kaitlin Thals

Uber said in a statement on Thursday that the protests were being led by “taxi investors, not drivers”.

“These same investors are the ones who have kept drivers’ wages low and working conditions poor for decades before Uber arrived,” the company said in a statement.

The company said “hundreds of taxi drivers” had switched to Uber since the ride-sharing company began operating in Australia.

They called on the government to “implement sensible, safety-based ridesharing regulation as quickly as possible”.

Uber emailed its customers on Thursday afternoon urging them to contact their local Victorian MP to lobby for regulation of their industry, and join in on a social media campaign #WhyIRide and #WhyIDrive.

‘We’re here, and we’re here to stay’: taxi drivers

David Singh, who represents VTF, said 24-hour strikes in Victoria, Queensland, WA and NSW would start next week, with other states also considering action.

“Enough is enough. We will start striking for 24 hours from next week,” Mr Singh told the crowd.

“We won’t say what day, but it could be at the airport or in Melbourne’s CBD.”

Taxi driver and immigrant to Australia, Leo Mauro (centre), said UberX would send him to his grave.

Taxi driver and immigrant to Australia, Leo Mauro (centre), said UberX would send him to his grave. Photo: Kaitlin Thals


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