The NT News has been shown copies of infringement notices where Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics inspectors are booking drivers because the taxi roof tariff light is too bright or not bright enough.
“A lot of drivers have come to us and they feel they’re being monitored, harassed and intimidated 24-7 when they’re on the road,” Mrs Pachos said.
She said operators have also been trying unsuccessfully to have the length-of-service for vehicles increased from nine to 12 years.
She said the government’s response to surging fuel prices was too little, too late.
In March Eva Lawler, who has oversight for the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, released a Commercial Passenger Vehicle industry reform paper with a series of recommendation the Government said will ‘accommodate point-to-point ridesharing transport services, while ensuring a level playing field for the current Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry.
Mrs Pachos said the report’s objective to address service standards had fallen short.
She said a long-overdue 7.9 cent tariff increase for taxis was announced in September to cover-off the Territory’s 7 per cent inflation, but was immediately swallowed when the commonwealth’s fuel price excise exemption was fully restored the same day.
She said the employment and payment flexibility of rideshares was making it extremely difficult for Blue Taxis to attract drivers.
In the December quarter 2021 there were 692 rideshare drivers in the Territory compared with 181 taxi drivers.
Mrs Pachos said it was “almost impossible” to get night-time drivers and serial rock throwers meant most drivers refused to work in Palmerston after dark.
Darwin Radio Taxi’s managing director Imran Nadeem agreed, saying the threat of assault was keeping drivers off the road at night.
“Drivers are too scared to drive at night,” he said.
“The violence is out of control.”
He said 90 per cent of assaults on drivers went unreported and when a report was made, it may not always be investigated.
He said a driver was assaulted earlier this week in Karama by six men, suffering two-black eyes and a suspected broken nose.
Police were unable to attend the scene when the man was assaulted and subsequent attempts to meet to make a statement had been unsuccessful. Police said they have no record of the incident.
“I manage 14 taxis and only have three fulltime night drivers,” he said.
Mr Nadeem wants changes to visa rules to allow sole-traders into Australia to fill workforce vacancies. He said the impact of rideshare services in the Territory was different to interstate.
“I think people underestimate the importance of taxis particularly in Darwin because it’s like nowhere else in Australia,” he said.
“In Melbourne and Sydney rideshare helps make it easier for taxis but in the Territory many people don’t have smartphones and credit cards for ridesharing and disabled and elderly people still use taxis.
“If things aren’t sorted the most vulnerable in society are going to be left in the dark.”
Darwin Airport has moved to address the issue of long queues by introducing a shuttle service to transport tourists to CBD hotels.
“Darwin International Airport introduced a shuttle bus service to Darwin city hotels in June 2022 in response to the shortage of taxi drivers and the impact this was having on the tourism industry,” a spokesman said.
“The shuttle bus operates a door-to-door service from the airport to city hotels and services all major flights,
costing $10 per adult.”
Meanwhile, local passengers waiting for a cab home are still queuing for long stints at 2am.
“I was in the queue on Thursday,” Mr Nadeem said.
“I own the largest taxi company in Darwin and was in the queue for 30 minutes.”
Mrs Pachos said the taxi industry could only survive with public support.
“The industry itself can’t keep fighting because we’re going round in circles,” she said.
“We need a community awareness campaign to highlight the issues and then for the public really to decide do they want a taxi industry or not.”
In response, a spokesman from DIPL said a national driver shortage was also being experienced in the Territory.
“This will be managed by releasing a set number of taxi licences in Darwin and Alice Springs each year over the next five years via a ballot, and will encourage drivers to reinvest in the industry as an operator driver,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman said the government had extended vehicle age limits by up to 12 months depending on vehicle quality and safety, and was reviewing whether to increase the age limit to 12 years.
A ballot will also be held later this year for 10 multi-purpose taxi licences in Darwin and five in Alice Springs.
Grants of up to $15,000 will be available for operators to fit-out wheelchair vehicles.
The spokesman said departmental inspectors were acting “in accordance with legislation”.
“This action may include the issuing of infringement notices or notices to rectify items that do not meet the minimum standards,” they said.
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