Taxi drivers should get paid more. Picture: Darryl Gregory Herald Sun
WOULD you really work as a contractor for approximately $10 an hour, from which you have to pay GST and personal tax?
Would you really work for $10 an hour when you could be threatened with abuse or, worse, physical violence, not get paid and find your primary asset - your taxi - covered with vomit?
There are some that do, but the majority of us would seek a more rewarding and less stressful occupation.
There are approximately 5145 taxis in Victoria, with an estimated 4233 in the metropolitan area and 912 in rural and regional areas of the state.
To fully man and operate those 5000-plus taxis the industry needs approximately 20,000 drivers. Of that number, less than 50 per cent or 2500 taxis of the 5000 taxis are driven by permanent or regular drivers, assisted by their wives, family or friends.
Some of these drivers are owner drivers, while others have leased the licence from the owner of the taxi at a cost of approximately $2800 a month, plus having to pay for all the operating costs. Many work six days a week, on regular 12-hour shifts for an income of $700 a week, before they pay GST and tax. Would any readers of this article volunteer for a job as a taxi driver?
The taxi industry is an important part of our public transport system, although it is commercially operated and financed, but regulated by government. The number of licences and the fare structure are set by the Government.
Although the taxis we drive in are better presented than before, thanks to the establishment of some easy-to-use cleaning facilities - particularly the one at the airport - there remain serious issues to be addressed.
There is a shortage of drivers because of the factors I have mentioned. There is also a lack of community respect for the taxi industry. There is the fact that so many of our part-time drivers do not have a sufficient command of English or, in some cases it seems none at all. There is, too, a general lack of knowledge relating to the city in which they drive.
The Government has appointed Professor Allan Fels to conduct an inquiry into the taxi industry and his report, due in March, is eagerly awaited.
But some things are clear if we are going to have a professional taxi industry. Licence owners do not need further financial reward, but those they lease their licences to and the drivers they employ must be remunerated at a much higher level. Drivers have had their income frozen by governments for years.
They are probably 40 per cent behind the wage increases to rank and file Australians, and deserve at least a 25 per cent increase.
Only if you are prepared to pay people a fair reward for their effort can you then address the other issues.
Other factors, such as a driver refusing to accept a fare, can be addressed if we, the users of the service, are prepared to be proactive and report such action.
All of this is possible with the correct leadership. The industry needs an advocate in high office to understand the make-up of the industry, the many wonderful colourful human stories that make up the industry, and the importance of a motivated and happy army of drivers to the mindset of those they drive.
Traditionally, taxi drivers are potentially the best advocates for the city and country, so they need respect.
Yes, but I hear you say, how often do taxi drivers commit an offence against the public they drive? But I am sure that such instances are equally matched by the incidents that we their clients impose on taxi drivers.
It is not a direct responsibility of the taxi industry to pick up inebriated citizens, or those who roll out of nightclubs in the early hours of the morning while clearly responding to the substances they have been taking.
There is a great difference between being totally drunk and taking a cab so one can have a few drinks over dinner and not risk driving over the limit.
Yes, it appears there is going to be a shortage of taxis over the Christmas and New Year period. But many regular or mature drivers simply do not want to work and put themselves and their vehicles at risk. In addition, many of the temporary drivers, particularly students, disappear from the city.
Sadly, Labor governments of the recent past had no appreciation of the importance of the taxi industry. I hope the Baillieu Government does, and that it will respond quickly to the Fels recommendations.
Hopefully, Fels will deliver a practical and easily implemented raft of recommendations. A high-level academic solution will not work.
It is not difficult to encourage an army of wonderful ambassadors for Victoria, and build up a respected industry.
Until that happens, what we are experiencing is the result of those in authority ignoring the needs of the taxi industry for more than a decade.
So once again I ask: Would you really want to work for $10 an hour from which you pay GST and tax?