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NOT APPY: Stoush brews over taxi bookings



By Sarah Michael

A MAJOR stoush is brewing between taxi drivers, the taxi industry and creators of independent apps designed to connect drivers directly with passengers.

The taxi industry has called for greater regulation of taxi apps unless they are run by or partnered with existing taxi networks calling them a “blind dating service”.

But Hamish Petrie, founder of taxi app ingogo, says he is “prepared to ruffle feathers among the troubled industry”.

Read: Which state pays most for taxis?

Critics, including Allen Fels who is leading a state government inquiry into the taxi industry, say the industry is in dire need of an overhaul. They say the current model restricts competition, operates in the interests of major cab companies and does not meet the needs of customers who simply want cheaper fares and more reliable booking services.

Taxi drivers have welcomed the apps saying existing taxi network booking systems do not provide them with enough work.

The contentious taxi apps connect passengers directly with drivers and offer them alternative methods of payment, cutting out the taxi networks in the process.

Mr Petrie’s taxi app allows passengers to book nearby taxis and track them using GPS. The app has also added a credit card payment function which charges an eight per cent surcharge instead of the NSW average of 11 per cent.

Ingogo charges a $1.80 fee to connect passengers with drivers, compared with NSW Government-set booking cost that taxi companies charge of $2.40.

“We’re waiting for the usual comments that say we’re non-compliant, unsafe and illegal,” said Mr Petrie, who also founded ticketing company Moshtix.

Mr Petrie said more than 1000 drivers had signed up to use ingogo in Sydney in the last 12 months.

“Most of the guys that come to us are renegades, they want to see change in the system,” he said.

The company currently only operates in NSW, but Mr Petrie plans to expand into Victoria and eventually roll the app out nationally.

Another taxi app GoCatch, which matches passengers directly with drivers, is partnered with GM Cabs – Australia’s second largest taxi EFTPOS provider after Cabcharge.

Taxis Combined also has their own app called mTAXI.

The Victorian Government is currently conducting an inquiry into the taxi industry, and a report will be handed down next month.

Inquiry chair Allen Fels said a change of philosophy was required because the industry has operated for too long for the interests of the industry and not enough in the interests of the consumer.

Mr Fels said there was immense scope for better taxi service in Australia based on better use of technology.

“Present arrangements restrict competition and protect networks that have market power and tend to obstruct good apps, and more generally good new technology,” he said.

“The taxi passenger wants to know how long they have to wait until their taxi arrives and new booking apps, a number of new booking apps provide that information.”

President of the Australian Taxi Drivers Association Michael Jools said new apps were being created because the major taxi networks were not efficient at fulfilling bookings, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

“It’s a real fruit salad of an industry and it needs to be fixed,” Mr Jools said.

“The reason they’ve come about is the networks are not very efficient at what they’re supposed to be doing.

Mr Jools said the system as it stands does not make it easy for drivers to get more work.

“It reduces my productivity and it reduces the number of taxis available for you as a customer,” he said.

“We’re empty half the time, if we could get one or two more jobs a day we could make more income.”

Mr Jools said taxi drivers in Sydney make $11 an hour on average.

“If I can get an extra couple of jobs by any app or any other system it’s going to help me enormously. Every fare I get adds $2 an hour to my income,” he said.

“That’s why I think these apps are going to help the passenger because you’ll get your cab and they will help me the driver because I’ll make money.”

NSW Taxi Council CEO, Peter Ramshaw said unauthorised apps were “like a blind dating service”.

“In my view it is a form of deception, relying on the taxi industry’s reputation for safety without the need to comply with any of the regulations,” Mr Ramshaw said.

Mr Ramshaw said taxi companies with authorised dispatch systems track where taxis are.

“If something does go wrong whoever was involved in that train is held accountable – that’s what makes taxis safe,” he said.

“You take all those things away and you’ve got people running around in a black market and nobody knows what they are or where they’re doing.

“The people that would be attracted to this type of system are the type of people who want to avoid accountably and that can’t be a good thing for the customer or for our industry.”

Mr Petrie said ingogo scans drivers’ licences and taxi authority information before they can sign up to the system, and gives drivers a dedicated phone which the company owns.

“We fully control communication between passenger and driver,” he said.

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