“Taxis are too dirty and expensive, and drivers are not customer-friendly enough to meet passengers’ expectations.
These are some of the complaints to an inquiry into the Victorian taxi and hire car industry.
Economist Allan Fels, chairing the inquiry, said yesterday low pay for drivers was contributing to poor service, although most Victorians felt the taxi fares were too high.
“The satisfaction rating is quite low — the lowest it’s ever been,” said Professor Fels, former head of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. “It’s down in the 50 per cents — that’s a very low number for an industry that’s meant to be looking after customers.”
The inquiry is due to recommend changes to improve service, safety and competition by the middle of next year.
Releasing some of the submissions received, Professor Fels said “very significant” regulatory changes seemed necessary.
The likely remedy will be less regulation and more competition in the biggest overhaul of the industry since former premier Jeff Kennett ordered all cabs to be painted yellow and all drivers to wear uniforms.
Eight major taxi companies operate in Melbourne, compared with 10 in Sydney and two each in Brisbane and Perth.
Complaints mainly focused on the poor quality of vehicles, lack of cleanliness and scarcity, particularly on the weekends.
Within the industry, opinions on the problems are mixed.
Ali Salis, who has been driving Melbourne cabs for 26 years, said standards had dropped dramatically since the 1990s.
“A lot of new drivers are getting their licence without taking an exam,” he claimed. “They give $2000 under the table to get a licence — they don’t know Melbourne buildings and places in the city.
“The government should kick the dirty cars off the road.”
Gurpeet Singh, who has been driving taxis for four years, said the industry was generally good but needed higher fares.
The inquiry is looking to improve the balance between taxi supply and demand, with proposals including more use of shared-ride services and weekend-only or geographically based minicab licences.
The Victorian Taxi Association is arguing that peak demand should be met by improved public transport, not more taxis.
The inquiry has heard average earnings for taxi drivers range between $7 and $13 an hour, but they could be more, with some drivers reportedly taking fares off the meter.