Stress continues for WA's regional taxi operators

Stress continues for WA's regional taxi operators

Regional taxi operators continue to face undue stress with some unable to provide a service to customers who require wheelchair access vehicles.

WA Country Taxi Operators Association secretary Julie Murray who owns and operates Mandurah Taxis has parked up all eight of their wheelchair buses because they have become unviable to run.

Last week, the Mail reported there was a risk regional taxi operators would no longer be able to operate at all without more equitable assistance from the state government.

Regional taxi operators have been fighting for a fairer compensation package after the industry was deregulated by the state government.

A relief package offered to regional operators fell short of what was offered to their metro counterparts leaving many operators with large debts and plates that were no longer valuable.

While Mandurah Taxis fell under the regional compensation package, their service is still grouped in the Perth/Mandurah/Murray levy area by the Department of Transport.

Thismeans they miss out on a $12 co-payment to pick up customers who require wheelchair access, which is offered to regional providers.

Despite missing out on the same compensation as metro taxis, Mandurah Taxis are charged a 10 per cent levy which applies to metro taxis as part of their buy-back scheme, but does not apply to regional taxis.

"People are beside themselves because they can't leave their house if they don't have a wheelchair taxi," Ms Murray said.

"It is really stressful for our staff who have to talk to people ringing distressed and we can't help them, it is not our fault."

Ms Murray said she had been picking up some of their customers for 20 years and would normally be conducting between 500 and 600 wheelchair lifts a month.

"The government has caused market failure and they don't want to admit it," she said.

"The government has shown nothing but contempt for regional taxi operators.

"We have been telling the government for years that this would happen."

Ms Murray said they were threatened with fines if they did not prioritise disabled customers over others, which meant they could no longer offer a maxi taxi service either.

"We have tried to negotiate with the department on this but no one will talk to us," she said.

Regional taxi operators were "devastated" after a parliamentary inquiry into the WA Government's handling of its buy back and regional assistance schemes was rejected by the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs.

Regional taxi operators were "devastated" after a parliamentary inquiry into the WA Government's handling of its buy back and regional assistance schemes was rejected by the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs.

A Department of Transport spokesperson said they had not threatened wheelchair taxi operators with fines, however reminded a new-metropolitan-based operator that wheelchair accessible vehicles must be used to attend first to any request for service for a passenger who uses or requires a wheelchair.

The spokesperson said penalties may apply to drivers and providers of on-demand booking services who failed to comply with the relevant sub-regulations of 141 of the Transport (Road Passenger Services) Regulations 2020.

"The requirement to prioritise wheelchair passenger jobs over other fares has always been regulated in Perth and was a condition of operating a taxi-car licence for regional areas," the spokesperson said.

"All booking services operating wheelchair accessible taxis outside the Perth/Mandurah/Murray levy area are eligible to claim a co-payment for each wheelchair job undertaken, provided they submit evidence of the job to the Department of Transport for validation.

"The Department of Transport has been in regular contact with regional taxi operators across the State throughout the on-demand transport reform process.

"Significant financial support has been provided to regional operators over the past two years."

Coupled with a driver shortage regional operators have been unable to provide a full service to their communities that once had access to taxis around the clock.

Busselton Taxis no longer operate on Sundays and other services in Dunsborough, Yallingup and Margaret River are struggling.

Busselton Taxi owner Jeff Devenny said while their wheelchair access service was still operating they were faced with the likelihood that soon they would not be able to operate any vehicles on Mondays as well.