Everyone in Melbourne complains about taxis. No one in government seems remotely prepared to take responsibility for the taxi system or to deal with its problems despite it being their responsibility. As its own website states, ‘The Victorian Taxi Directorate (VTD) regulates the taxi and hire vehicle industries and issues Driving Instructor Authorities. The VTD is part of the Public Transport Division of the Department of Transport.‘
Taxis are supposedly a part of the public transport system yet they are managed as private businesses. The low level employees in the taxi industry, the drivers, are exploited by the greedy unethical entrepreneurial employers who own the taxi licenses. For example, drivers are held legally responsible for the cost of accidents as they are not insured. The Age recently reported that ‘the complicated sub-leasing system allowed in Victoria resulted in cabs being on the road uninsured without the driver knowing it.‘
The compulsory third-party insurance all vehicle owners are supposed to pay is not being paid by many taxi owners. This insurance income funds the TAC, which covers the costs of medical care for accident victims. The government sells licenses to greedy unethical operators, some of whom put dangerous untrained drivers in cars and don’t pay insurance for them. When they cause accidents there is less money available to support accident victims.
The government is responsible for managing all of this but fails to meet its responsibilities at every point in the system. Why? because it’s much easier not to manage a complicated system when you can privatise it. The government effectively allows unethical entrepreneurs to exploit low skilled workers. It also makes the government lots of money in license fees. The Age reports that 530 new licences ‘will bring in millions of dollars in revenue for the state government‘.
The system is run to profit license owners not to provide an efficient service to customers. The license holders make a lot of money out of the privatised system at the expense of the government, the employees and the customers. Customers pay fares yet get poor customer service from ignorant, untrained, dangerous drivers.
The solution is relatively simple but I doubt the government has the ability to achieve it. It should end the multi-level privatisation of the system. As a public transport system, taxis should not be run on a for-profit model but on a sustainable cost-recovery model. The government should resume control all aspects of licensing taxis. Taxis must be regularly checked and guaranteed as roadworthy.
Drivers should be employed the same way as other drivers in the public transport industry, with contacts, awards and enforceable conditions like bus, train and tram drivers. All drivers must be properly trained in driving, navigation and customer service skills, such as personal hygiene, not smoking in their taxis, not talking on their mobile phones while driving, not playing loud music etc.
The government acts like the problem is beyond its control, but in reality it is responsible for every aspect of the industry, including selling licenses, doing roadworthiness inspections, licensing and training drivers, ensuring that insurance is paid, funding the TAC and monitoring customer feedback.
The problems with the taxi industry are as bad as those in other parts of Melbourne’s public transport system, so why has the government not faced the same level of scrutiny about taxis as it has about trains? How can this pervasive entrenched corruption, whereby the state government sells the safety and wellbeing of its citizens to make more license income, be allowed to continue?