Moree taxi drivers are threatening to walk off the job if a proposed On Demand public transport service is introduced in town.
Last week, Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall announced Moree would be one of seven NSW locations to trial the On Demand service which would enable locals to book a bus via phone or text to pick them up from home or a convenient location and take them to a local transport hub or point of interest.
The service would be operated by local bus company Reynolds and Fogarty from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, with a standard fare to cost $3.
Moree Radio Cabs taxi drivers Carl Blumfield and Paul Raveneau have serious concerns that this new service will take away much of their business in town.
“It’s basically a subsidised taxi service,” Mr Blumfield, who has been driving taxis in Moree for the past 30 years, said of the On Demand service.
“We get no subsidies, we get taxed. We’ve got to pay a $1.10 levy to the NSW government per passenger, plus we’ve got to pay 10 per cent GST and 20 per cent tax. It costs us $5,000 just to register our vehicles and $570 a month to have a call centre.
“We’re so regularised.”
Mr Blumfield and Mr Raveneau feel like that $1.10 levy that they’re paying to the state government is helping to pay the subsidy Reynolds and Fogarty are receiving to run the On Demand service.
“It feels like we’re subsidising our opposition,” Mr Blumfield said.
In response, Mr Marshall said that levy goes straight back into the taxi industry.
The taxi industry has been struggling with rising costs since Uber was introduced in Australia. In Moree, taxi drivers are already competing against the various courtesy buses and pick-up/drop-off services being run by local organisations, and they believe this new service will stifle business even further.
Meanwhile, the current drought is also taking its toll.
“In the last eight weeks my wages have dropped to half of what I used to take due to the drought, even with picking up extra hours,” Mr Raveneau, who has been driving taxis in Moree on and off for the past 45 years, said.
“We’re struggling,” Mr Blumfield added.
“This is going to be the nail in the coffin.”
If the On Demand service comes to town, Mr Blumfield and Mr Raveneau said they’ll stop working. And if just a few of the 10 taxis in Moree quit, both men believe it would be too difficult to continue to run a taxi service in Moree, as the less taxis there are, the more each driver has to pay for the call centre and the more hours they have to do.
“I’m not going to work just at night time to fit in with their schedule,” Mr Blumfield said.
“We have people in their 70s and 80s driving, they’re just going to walk away. There are 15 workers’ jobs at stake. We’ve just had enough.”
In response to the taxi drivers’ concerns, Mr Marshall said the On Demand service is just a variation of the town’s regular bus run, which Reynolds and Fogarty are contracted to do by Transport for NSW, hence why Moree Radio Cabs weren’t consulted about the new service.
“Reynolds and Fogarty have had the contract for Transport for NSW for years, to provide the town with a bus run,” Mr Marshall said.
“They run on a scheduled route every day of the week and for the past five years, proprietor Greg Reynolds has told me there are days that some buses haven’t even picked up a single passenger. Greg approached Transport for NSW and said if you’re going to pay me to run empty buses, why don’t you pay me to pick people up when they want.
“Tax payers pay for the public transport anyway but it’s largely going unused. [Reynolds and Fogarty] are not being paid extra for this service.
“This is just an On Demand service; it’s the same contract but just more flexible.”
Mr Marshall also emphasised that it is just a trial.
Meanwhile, Mr Reynolds doesn’t believe this service will take business away from taxis.
“I think what we’re going to be doing is getting a different sort of clientele,” he said.
“With the On Demand, people can ring up and can book it to be picked up at a certain time. The difference is taxis go out and pick up and take strangers to where they want to go. The bus might go and pick up half a dozen different people in different locations before dropping people off. You might be the first on the bus, but could be the last dropped off.
“It’s just giving the public more access to public transport. It’s a variation of the service that is more beneficial to the public.
“I think it will be [more utilised], giving the public what they really want.”