WA's regional taxis hung out to dry

WA's regional taxis hung out to dry

WA's regional taxi operators are still being left hung out to dry while the state government decides whether it will offer operators further financial assistance for country taxi licences.

In May 2019, transport minister Rita Saffiotti announced a $3.4 million Regional Taxi Transition Support Package to help existing country taxi-car licence holders and operators transition to a new operating environment.

Operators could receive $10,000 per plate up to a maximum of 10 plates and discounts on a few fees.

Busselton Taxis owners Jeff and Janet Devenny said the package was inequitable and the $3.4 million simply did not add up.

"Perth plate owners received between $100,000 to $250,000 for taxi plates they purchased, and country taxi plates were sold over decades for similar amounts throughout the state," they said.

Without financial assistance from the state government Busselton Taxis face a real risk of closure along with other regional taxi operators in the state leaving communities without access to 24/7 transport.

"Which is especially difficult for elderly and disabled people for whom other competitors like Uber do not provide a service," they said.

"While regional taxi operators like Busselton Taxis invested significantly in the purchase of taxi plates to operate legally new competitors have none of the same costs so it is not a level playing field.

"Regional areas were excluded from the metro buyback option even though country people purchased taxi plates in the exactly the same manner administered by the state government and invested significantly in their businesses.

"Regional operators have been left with large legacy debts after their taxi plate assets were removed with no buyback.

"The Minister and Department of Transport did not consult with country taxi operators, and did not undertake due diligence to understand the differences in business structures, investments and some of the unique services that regional operators provide for their communities."

The minister was unavailable for comment but a spokesperson from the Department of Transport said country taxis played an important role in the regions.

"The Regional Taxi Transition Support Package has been provided to regional taxi-car operators to assist the industry while it adjusts to a more open market, so it could continue to be a viable and competitive option for the people of WA," the spokesperson said.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam wrote to the transport minister in November urging her to reach a decision on additional financial assistance and support.

Ms Mettam stated the state government's on demand transport reforms have opened regional taxi operators' small businesses up to competition from a once regulated market, introduced additional costs to meet new levels of equipment and introduced new licencing requirements.

She said given many regional taxis traded for decades in a similar manner as metro licences, they were asking to be treated in the same way as their metro counterparts.

WA Country Taxi Operators Association secretary Julie Murray said regional operators throughout WA were struggling and all were trying to deal with debts.

"If I was a new driver and decided to setup in Busselton I would not have any costs to enter now," she said.

"It is really unfair and it is really effecting businesses because we have this legacy debt."

Ms Murray said regional operators were all facing closure if the government did not provide any assistance.

"We are all in the same boat Broome, Esperance and Albany. Bunbury and Kalgoorlie are both in really sad situations because they are cooperatives which are based on paid ownership.

"Across the state in the next 12 months, if the minister does not pull her finger out and do something we will start to lose taxi services.

"What will happen then is some ad hoc Uber drivers come out when they feel like it and there won't be any wheelchair access services.

"If you close us down there will be nothing left."