WA country cab head leads calls for weekend strike

Staff reportersBroome Advertiser
VideoDrivers are angry over the buy-back levy.

A Broome cabbie is leading threats of industrial action across the State as one of the year’s busiest weekends in the holiday mecca looms.

WA Country Taxi Association president Shayne Murray is calling on taxi drivers in regional WA to abandon their vehicles for 48 hours from 4pm Friday.

Of 10 regional taxi operators contacted by West Regional News on Wednesday, most were undecided about joining the call to arms. Four said they would not be taking part.

The stand-off with the State Government centres on a financial assistance package to regional taxi operators announced in the State Budget in response to the deregulation of regional taxi services due to disrupters such as Uber entering the metro market.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said country taxis existed under separate legislation and were ineligible from the buy-back scheme for privately owned plates because they operated under an annual licence system.

She has offered them $10,000 per taxi licence, which has been capped at 10 vehicles, and has offered to waive on-demand booking service authorisation fees for three years.

WACTOA has called on Premier Mark McGowan to urgently review the regional financial assistance package.

A strike from some cabs in Broome this weekend could result in fare pressure due to the two-day Cable Beach Polo, which attracts hundreds of people to the town every year.

Tourists, spectators, competitors and the general public would also need transport to their hotels and resorts from Broome International Airport as well as revellers frequenting pubs and clubs on Friday and Saturday nights.

Down south, Busselton Taxis director Jeff Deveny would not confirm whether or not his company would strike, but said he was unhappy with the assistance package.

“We should be getting exactly what they get in the metro area,” he said.

“In regional areas, operators have more infrastructure and more to lose than a single plate owner in Perth – that’s why no one is happy.”

Kalgoorlie-Boulder taxi drivers, who went on strike Wednesday morning, said they would not strike again this weekend.

Twin City Cabs board member Neville Sly said allowing other operators to join without the cost of paying for taxi driver plates would make existing operations unviable.

“If someone wants in on the industry they have to purchase a set of plates which have been sold from $150,000 to $200,000 in most regional areas for about 20 years,” he said.

“People have borrowed money from the banks to purchase these plates, many people are still paying them off and now the government have just made them worthless.”

Read more in Wednesday’s Kalgoorlie Miner.

Ms Saffioti said the State Government was making $3.4 million available to help existing country taxi-car licence holders and operators transition to the new system.

She said businesses could continue to operate as they always have under a reformed licencing framework with a new chain of accountability which outlined the responsibilities of operators and drivers and prioritised safety of passengers.

“If this reform had not happened, Uber and other services would eventually enter more regional markets over time, without the ability of existing taxi operators to compete - which is exactly what happened in Perth,” she said.

Mr Murray said the association had written to Premier Mark McGowan advising the offer to rural cabbies was “unacceptable and a total disrespect for the population of regional WA that rely on taxi services”.

Mr Murray said country taxi plates had been treated in the same manner as those in the metropolitan area in terms of the Department of Transport facilitating trade for decades.

“The value individual country taxi plates traded for has been documented and recorded by the DoT and the plates traded without being attached to a vehicle,” he said.

“Stamp Duty had to be paid prior to every country taxi plate transfer.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails