Taxicabs of Australia
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The taxi industry in Australia relates to the tertiary sector of the economy associated with taxis in the various Australian states and territories. The sector is highly regulated and each state and territory has its own history and structure.
A taxi is generally defined as a motor vehicle licensed to transport passengers in return for payment of a fare and are typically required to operate and charge on a fitted taximeter. In Australia taxi fare rates are set by state or territory governments. A vehicle without a meter is generally not considered to be a taxi, and may be described, for example, as a hire car, limousine, carpool, etc. Most taxis today are fuelled by liquid petroleum gas.
Taxi services are particularly valuable to less mobile groups in the community, such as elderly and disabled people. As a result, government intervention has historically ensured that taxi services have assisted in ensuring equity, reliability, quality, and safety. At the same time, regulation has created barriers to entry and limited competition in the sector. In April 1995, the Commonwealth and all State and Territory governments entered into the Competition Principles Agreement the required all jurisdictions to review legislation which restricts competition by the year 2000. As a result of pressures from competition law, the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (and preceding legislation), and evolving technology, the regulated industry is facing challenges from deregulated suppliers, such as Uber and ride-sharing services.
Australia adopted horse-drawn taxis once cities were established and, in the case of Queensland, Brisbane introduced the first horse-drawn taxis, which plied throughout the city. These also included hansom cabs, a more elaborate type with a closed-in cabin for passengers with two small front doors and glass windows and their driver sitting high at the back. This type of vehicle was a standard type used in England. Hansom cabs were used in Brisbane until 1935, operating from a rank outside the Supreme Court in George Street.
Motor taxis were introduced into Australia not long after they were put into service in the United Kingdom and Europe. In 1906 Sydney inaugurated motorised taxis, followed soon after by the other states.
The taxis of the period including a variety of types, with tourers and sedans. The latter were mainly French built Renaults, which were designed as taxis, not unlike the hansom cabs. Brisbane had a number of them that plied from the ranks outside Parliament House, Brisbane in Alice Street, and the Supreme Court of Queensland building in George Street. As applied to the hansom cabs, the Renaults catered mainly for gentlemen of standing, including judges, barristers and other notables. The drivers wore uniforms with leggings, the same as those worn by chauffeurs of horse-drawn carriages.
Each large taxi company had telephones installed in a steel box type cover at city and suburban ranks, direct to the switch control rooms in the city.
Although motor vehicle taxis were being used at the time, a few horse-drawn taxis continued service in Brisbane until the early 1920s. Country towns had them for a while longer.
The progress through the years included many types of tourers from circa 1910 until the late 1920s, with British and American cars predominating. Makes featured such names as Buick, Dodge, Talbot, Vauxhall, Saxon, Ford, Chandler, Studebaker, Chevrolet, Hupmobile, Whippet, Oldsmobile, Marmon, Pontiac, Hudson, Oakland, Erskine, Rugby, Essex and Chrysler.
Sedans were added during the late 1920s and included similar makes of vehicles. This was the case with all cars being imported into Australia until World War II. American cars proved more suitable to Australian motoring conditions, especially for taxis. General Motors Corporation built thousands in Australia, as did the other American companies including Ford and Chrysler.
Current industry structure by state
New South Wales
Most taxis are Ford Falcons and Toyota Camrys, although a smaller number of Holden Commodores, Ford Fairlanes, Holden Statesman/Caprices and Toyota Taragos, Chrysler Voyagers, Holden Zafiras, Volkswagen Multivans, Toyota Hiaces and Mercedes Benz vans are in service. Until the early 2010s when hybrid-electric models became popular, taxis typically ran on liquid petroleum gas.
In general, individual taxis are owned by small-scale operators who pay membership fees to regional or citywide radio communication networks. These networks provide branding as well as telephone and internet booking services to operators and drivers.
Fares are set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of New South Wales (IPART). Other aspects of the industry are regulated by the Transport for New South Wales and the Roads & Maritime Services. The industry plays a self-regulating role through the New South Wales Taxi Council.
Vehicle operators are represented by the New South Wales Taxi Industry Association and, in country New South Wales, by the New South Wales Country Operators Association. Drivers are represented by the New South Wales Taxi Drivers Association. The New South Wales Transport Workers Union purports to represent taxi drivers. Most regional centres have a local taxi network.
Prior to a taxi company being formed in Queensland, owners of taxis simply had signs on the vehicles indicating "For Hire" painted on the side, front and rear. Before 1924, all taxis plied for hire without a means of recording the mileage, other than the driver himself calculating the fare according to how far he drove his passengers. There was a fare scale, however, the driver could charge whatever he thought was nearest to the amount specified. This no doubt, brought about the introduction of meters.
The first taxi company in Queensland was Ascot Taxi Service which was formed in 1919 in Brisbane by two motor mechanics, Edmund William Henry Beckman and Edward Roland Videan. In 1924, the Yellow Cab Company imported their taxis from the United States, which were built especially for taxi work by the Yellow Cab Company in Chicago. The vehicle was the A2 Brougham (mustard pots)—a sedan with the driver separated from the passengers by a window with the baggage compartment in front beside him. The meter was alongside the window by the driver's side. The taxis were also the first fitted with meters in Australia. The vehicle was known as a yellow cab, having been built by the company with that name plate on the front of the radiator. The engines were also built especially for the type and were similar to the Willys Knight. The driver's compartment did not have side windows. The Broughams were taken out of service in 1936.
The Yellow Cab Company has now become the largest cab fleet in Brisbane and introduced the first computerised data dispatch from the control room to taxis. The system was designed to increase efficiency and provide a better and safer service for the public and increase drivers' security. The computers have been installed into the fleet of over 580 taxis.
The Taxi Council of Queensland is the trade association and its objective is to expand the total market for taxi services.
Taxis are a part of public transport in Victoria. Concern about the availability and quality of taxis continues to be a major public issue in Victoria. The entry of ride-sharing services, such as Uber, into the state is also controversial and is yet to be resolved.
Significant reforms were made to the industry in 1994 under the Kennett Government, including taxis being required to be painted canary yellow. In 2002, peak service taxis, which must be yellow and a green top, were introduced to operate at night, between 3 pm and 7 am, and at special events only. In 2013, the taxi regulations were relaxed to allow colours other than yellow.
The taxi industry in Victoria was the subject of a major government inquiry, the Taxi Industry Inquiry in 2011.
The structure and regulation of the taxi industry in Victoria is complex, particularly in metropolitan Melbourne. Each taxi is required to be licensed and one vehicle only is permitted to operate on each licence. The number of licences issued is restricted, but transfers of a licence can take place. The person who holds a taxi licence is known as a licence holder. The market value of a taxi licence fluctuates over time. They were estimated to be valued at around $464,000, in October 2008. In April 2011, metropolitan taxi licences had an approximate market value of $512,500. In June 2016 the approximate market value of a metro licence was $158,688.
There are eight large taxi licence holders, those which own and control more than 10 licences. The largest licence holders are Cabcharge Australia Ltd, which also operates the 13CABS network, and the Gange Corporation, which operates the Silver Top Taxis network. More than 60% of licences are assigned (or leased or rented) to taxi operators, who pay the licence holder assignment fees. These can fluctuate, and typically are in the order of $24,000 per annum. The operator owns, maintains and operates the taxi vehicle as well as the taximeter. Taxi operators may drive their taxis or may employ drivers. In June 2016 there were 14,771 active taxi drivers. Taxi drivers are required to be registered, and their registration certificate must be displayed in the taxi. A taxi operator can sell the taxi, comprising the assigned licence, vehicle and meter, as a going concern. Besides receiving the assignment fees from the taxi operator, licence holders also commonly benefit from capital growth in licence values, or carry the risk of a decline in the market value of a licence.
There are two main network service providers in the greater Melbourne area of Victoria: Silver Top Taxis (operated by Gange Corporation) and 13CABS (operated by Cabcharge).
In 2008, there were 3,774 licensed taxis in Melbourne, including 235 wheelchair accessible taxis. In 2011, there were 5,045 taxi licences across Victoria, including 502 wheelchair accessible taxis. More recently, the number of taxi licences were:
|Sept 2015||June 2016|
|Metropolitan||4,812||4,660 including 443 wheelchair accessible taxis|
|Urban||488||505 including 85 wheelchair accessible taxis|
|Regional||335||336 including 72 wheelchair accessible taxis|
|Country||162||162 including 35 wheelchair accessible taxis|
|Total||5,797||5,663 including 635 wheelchair accessible taxis|
Victoria does not have a dedicated industry statute covering the taxi industry. The prime operational statute for the taxi industry is the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983. Part 6 of that Act contains the key provisions regulating the taxi industry including provisions relating to licensing, accreditation and compliance. The overarching Transport Integration Act 2010 (TIA) is a key piece of legislation. It both establishes the taxi industry regulator, the Director of Public Transport, and contains a set of high level policy objectives and principles which the regulator must have regard to when exercising functions including licensing and accreditation decisions. In practice, the Director delegates taxi industry functions to the General Manager of the Victorian Taxi Directorate. Another key operational legislative instrument is the Transport (Taxi-cab) Regulations 2005.
The Taxi Industry Inquiry of 2011 resulted in major reforms to Victoria's taxi industry and has had a far reaching impact on taxi services in Melbourne and beyond. The Transport Legislation Amendment (Taxi Services Reform and Other Matters) Act 2011 created the Taxi Services Commission to regulate the taxi industry. The Commission commenced its role on 1 July 2013 and began operations on 19 July. Accreditation requirements apply to a number of key parties in the taxi industry.
As at 19 February 2009, there are 448 perpetual, 8 owner-operator and 45 wheelchair accessible taxi licences on issue in Tasmania. The industry employs over 1,000 taxi drivers: some owner-drivers and most drivers on a bailiff agreement commission basis.
There are 3 main providers in Hobart – 131008 Hobart, Taxi Combined and Yellow Cabs. 131008 Hobart alone service over 50% of Hobart's immediate population. The remainder of the industry consists of smaller fleet operators with several licences each and the rest are owner-operators. The location of taxi ranks in the southern district are around the main CBD area, with many others in suburbs close to Hobart.
The Tasmanian Taxi Association began publishing a quarterly industry newsletter "TTA Taxi Talk" in December 2008. In October 2008 Yellow Cabs began operating their first Toyota Prius, becoming Tasmania's first taxi company to run hybrid vehicles.
There are two main taxi dispatch service operators in the greater Perth area of Western Australia: Black and White Taxis (with about 10% of traffic), providing Black & White Cabs, Sunseeker Taxis, Maxi Cabs, 13eCab and 13LCab; and Swan Taxis (with almost 90% of traffic) which dispatches Swan Taxis, 13Cabs, Easy Access Perth, Coastal Cabs, Silver Service, Tricolor and Yellow Cab taxis. Other much smaller independent dispatch companies include West Coast Cabs, Rainbow Taxis, Carlisle Cabs, Cabwest and White Eagles.
In Perth, there were 2,215 taxis operating in 2013, most being either conventional sedans or station wagons. This number included 116 multipurpose taxis that can also cater for passengers who are wheelchair-bound, 41 peak period restricted taxis and 75 restricted area taxis. An additional fifty London-style taxis were introduced in late 2013, dispatched by Black and White Cabs.
Outside the Perth metropolitan area, taxi fleets vary considerably in size from the largest, Kalgoorlie/Boulder with 44 licensed taxis (2013), to numerous very small towns with only one licence. The largest rural taxi fleets for 2014 were Kalgoorlie/Boulder (44), Mandurah (36), Bunbury (30), Broome (29), Geraldton (25), Port Hedland (23) and Carnarvon (23).
All taxis in Western Australia have meters operated by the distance and time. The meter is connected to a rooftop light that illuminates when the cab is vacant. Cabs can be booked either by phone call or on the internet. Hailing of taxis on the street is permitted in Western Australia. There are also taxi ranks at airports, many railway stations, popular nightspots and shopping centres.
The Cabcharge account payment system was established in 1976 to provide a way to pay for taxi fares throughout Australia and participating countries. Cabcharge has been the subject of Federal Court proceedings over alleged anti-competitive practices including predatory pricing activities and was subjected to a record high $15 million settlement for these behaviours. The company is also facing criticism of profiteering for the 10% surcharge it imposes on taxi fares paid by card and the matter is currently being investigated by the Reserve Bank of Australia, and the surcharge has been limited to no more than 5% in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.
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Media related to Taxis in Australia at Wikimedia Commons
- Australian Taxi Industry Association (26 May 2015). "2015 Competition Policy Review Final Report: Response". Canberra: The Treasury, Australian Government.