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Labor MP urges taxi fare increases, warns against Uber X

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Labor backbencher Tung Ngo has written to Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan to petition on behalf of the taxi industry against the legalisation of Uber X, InDaily can reveal.

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In a letter sent in October, obtained by InDaily, Ngo argues the introduction of the ride-sharing service “creates a completely unfair playing field”, saying: “I wanted to take this opportunity to express my position against Uber and Uber X operating in our state”.

He tells the minister allowing Uber X to operate “would not only be a slap in the face to people investing in our state, but would make their investment worthless overnight”.

“Sadly, it will also lead to many lease operators being forced out of the industry and be disastrous for employment in South Australia,” he argues.

He also wrote in November to former Telstra state director Michael Luchich, the chair of the Government’s Taxi and Chauffeur Vehicle Industry Review, to outline “a number of issues of concern in the SA taxi industry”.

“A number of drivers have contacted me about the level of pay that they earn, with many drivers working long hours to make ends meet, sometimes effectively only earning $5 an hour,” he writes to Luchich.

“There is a view that fare structures need to be more reflective of current costs, which is not the case at the moment with the last fare increase being two years ago.”

One solution he suggests is a “special driver tariff” for peak travel times on weekends and public holidays, “which could be used to boost the overall income of drivers”.

“Patrons of taxi services would be unlikely to be worried about paying a small surcharge during these peak times for the convenience that a taxi provides them,” he writes.

He says taxi operators pay higher licence fees (around $24,800 a year) than their Melbourne equivalents ($22,700), despite bookings falling consistently over the past three years.

“I just want a fair playing field,” Ngo told InDaily.

“I’m not against competition – I encourage competition – but as long as the players competing in this industry have some kind of fair game.

“[The taxi industry] is a highly regulated industry, in terms of Government fees and charges they industry’s got to pay… if you allow another player without having to pay all these fees and charges, I don’t think it’s a fair game.”

He said his anecdotal feedback suggested many taxi drivers worked 15 hours days but only took home around $600 a week after their fees and charges were dispensed.

“The drivers don’t get paid very much at all… we need to increase their pay a little bit,” he said.

“If the Government happened to go down the path of reducing fees and charges, some [of that] should go towards the drivers.”

He said better remuneration would encourage drivers to “become more professional about their work”.

“The taxi industry has been serving the community well – obviously they need improvement, but you can’t have one player [in the market] with one hand tied behind the back… eventually it will just kill the industry off.”

In his letter to Mullighan, Ngo details “a range of mechanisms” to which the taxi industry adheres to ensure passenger safety, while arguing it is regulated by “the government setting ceiling prices”.

“Taxi drivers are required to pay tariffs at the airport [and] to use taxi ranks at the airport,” he writes.

“This is in stark contrast to Uber X drivers who avoid paying airport fares and will no doubt skip the taxi rank, adding to congestion at the drop-off and pick-up areas.”

The minister is expecting to receive the review’s report imminently.

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