A $9 million relief package for the taxi and on-demand transport industry, passed in WA's Lower House Parliament on Wednesday, will not go far enough to relieve financial stress for WA's regional taxi operators, says industry.
WA's regional taxis have been on the brink of collapse after the state government's previous package to compensate operators fell short.
The new series of measures, called the COVID On Demand Transport Relief Package, includes a $4.7 million boost to regional taxis and provides immediate financial relief to on-demand transport charter and tour companies.
Under the relief package, regional taxi operators could be compensated $20,000 per plate at a cap of five plates or $110,000.
The problem for many regional operators is that they purchased multiple country plates in excess of the capped limits being offered by the state government.
Operators are running on low reserves after suffering years of losses brought on by ride-sharing businesses.
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the COVID-19 pandemic had been a very difficult time for all sectors of the passenger transport industry - from charter and taxi service providers through to tourism operators.
"This is part of the McGowan Government's wider economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic," she said.
"The assistance package for taxi operators in our regional areas being offered is fair and reasonable and should alleviate some of the hardship that is being experienced right now, in particular as a result of the COVID-19 crisis," she said.
WA Country Taxi Operators Association secretary Julie Murray said they were devastated by the package and that it could result in smaller operators "nicking off" and larger operators suffering.
"Finally the minister has recognised that plates traded which is a good thing, but we are disappointed she is hiding behind the COVID-19 crisis to try and push legislation through without consultation while everyone is exhausted and financially stressed," she said.
"As usual the devil is in the detail and the thing that stands out is the capped limit of five plates, I do not understand that which is a direct hit to all the regional operators, specifically Mandurah."
Ms Murray, who also operates Mandurah Taxis, said at its peak the company had around 40 taxis, some of which had cost $110,000 for a single plate.
"There was recognition we were hurt from 2014 because of our location, all the illegal Ubers started and flooded our area, we had a 40 per cent drop in income straight away," she said.
"We are not asking for money for plates that we did not buy.
"Everyone just wants assistance for plates people legitimately bought and can show the transfer and stamp duty, just like they did in Perth. I still cannot work out why regional taxis didn't."
"We have been taking blow after blow, we have low reserves financially, low reserves mentally and I think you will find people just give up.
"We are a front line essential service for a lot of people - in the end you have to ask why you are doing it - it is pretty tough to keep going."
Like other taxi services around the state, Busselton Taxis operate a 24/7 service 365 days of the year offering transport to some of the most vulnerable people in the community including those who require wheelchair accessible vehicles.
Busselton Taxis owner Jeff Devenney said the relief package was "dirty politics" and that the minister was hiding behind coronavirus.
"They made a huge blue years ago and now they are hiding behind COVID-19, if they had done the right thing in the first place two or three years ago we would not be worrying about this in this environment," he said.
"It is similar to the last fix they did, it won't last long and eventually disappear because our running costs are too high and there is now a lack of turnover.
"In 12 months time we will be back to square one again."
Vasse MLA Libby Mettam welcomed the assistance and the long-awaited support for the regional taxi industry who were never consulted during the reform process.
"We have long supported assistance to regional taxi industry who have been experiencing significant financial hardship as a result of the McGowan Government's on-demand transport reforms," she said.
"These regional taxi operators were not considered as part of the metro buyback scheme but will now receive payments, dependent on their third party investment, of up to $110,000 as part of a $4.5 million buyback package for over 60 percent of operators.
"This Bill in effect allows revenue raised by the Uber tax to fund assistance payments in response to the coronavirus crisis, as well as payments for some regional taxi operators who have experienced significant financial hardship since the McGowan Government's On-Demand Transport reforms.
"We will continue to provide bipartisan support to the government in any effort to support the transport and other industries during this unprecedented period."