He said a flight arrival into Mackay this month ahead of the Developing Northern Australia conference was delayed from 6pm to a midnight.
“There’s a dire shortage of taxis, particularly around events and when people are coming into town via airlines,” he said.
“The last major event (Developing Northern Australia conference) … there were no taxis for about 100 people.
“In fact, a minister of the Western Australian government had to walk into town, which was a bit embarrassing.
“He took it in good faith … but that’s just an example of what is happening.
“They’re not blaming anybody, but it’s not a good image for Mackay.”
Of the 17 fatal crashes resulting in 18 deaths across the Mackay district in 2022, Senior Sergeant Michael Hollett confirmed eight were linked to alcohol.
The Forensic Crash Unit officer in charge said of those eight the highest blood alcohol reading was 0.362 per cent, which is more than seven times the legal limit.
Mr Williamson said the number of fatal crashes, with many involving alcohol, so far this year also played on his mind.
He said he “absolutely” feared there was a correlation between the lack of available transport and people making a decision to get behind the wheel after a night out.
“With QME (Queensland Mining and Engineering Exhibition) and Wine and Food Day as well this month, there’s a lot happening and a lot of people having a few wines or beers who don’t want to drive home,” he said.
“You’ve got to say that if people can’t get home, and they’re standing around from quarter to midnight to quarter to two in the morning, the next temptation is ‘well bugger it I’m just going to get in my car and drive home’ and it’s dangerous.
“People have said, ‘well, why doesn’t the council put on a shuttle bus service?’ and that’s very easy to say but who pays for that and where do you get the drivers from?
“Staff shortage is a real issue that is across the board, and it’s an issue for Mackay cabs.
“The other thing is we don’t want to be competing against private enterprise in terms of council.
“But we’ve got to try and safeguard the safety issue of people being tempted to get behind the wheel after they’ve been out of the dinner, or an event or a function.
“And then the image that’s created for Mackay is bad as well if people arrive at the airport as happened with the conference and they cannot get to their accommodation.”
But Mr Williamson said he was encouraged after a chat with new Mackay Whitsunday Taxi boss Alfie Intelisano.
“He’s very keen to actually fix the problem. And we want to do that together,” he said.
Mr Williamson said the council’s events management team could become a conduit between events organisers, tourism bodies, the airport and taxis.
“Mackay Taxis are willing to put in share rides in their maxi taxis, I think they’ve got six,” he said.
“And if they know, they can schedule the maxi drivers for events or airports, put six or seven in and charge per head.
“But there just needs to be better communication.”
Mr Intelisano, now at the helm of Mackay Whitsunday Taxis, is enthusiastic about delivering a better service but he says noticeable change for customers is still about six to 12 months away.
The taxi division manager said Mackay had been “a victim of our own success” and people they used to attract to the taxi industry now had so many other job options.
Mr Intelisano, a second generation cabbie, said Covid had also played a role because international students used to be 80 per cent of their intake before border shutdowns.
He said there were also older drivers and drivers with young families who stepped away from the industry because they did not want to put themselves or their families at risk when passengers refused to wear masks.
Mr Intelisano said there were 54 cars across the Mackay and Whitsunday regions but the number of cars on the road could vary from 10-44 depending on the day of the week and time of the day.
He said it was easier to find people willing to drive during the day than at night and on weekends but it was also important to manage fatigue with a smaller roster.
“We have enough taxis but not enough drivers to put them on the road,” he said.
“The unemployment rate in Mackay is so low that I truly believe very few people are looking for work.
“I met a young bloke on the plane the other day doing seven on seven off in a mine kitchen earning $70,000 cutting up tomatoes.
“I just don’t how we got it so wrong as a country, we restricted bringing in migrants from other countries to skilled workers like doctors, nurses, engineers … but Covid has shown us it’s the unskilled people we need such as fruit pickers, cab drivers.”
Mr Intelisano said Taxi Council Queensland was lobbying government to change visa rules to allow unskilled workers to “pick up the slack” in the industry.
“In Mackay, we could put on 50 drivers tomorrow and have enough work for them,” he said.
“But there’s a secondary issue, even if we could get them, where are we going to put these people in accommodation in Mackay? It’s a tough market.
“We’ve got to get more people to come into Mackay and find them a place to live.”
Mr Intelisano said he was committed to better communication between tourism organisations and councils in Mackay and the Whitsundays to ensure better coverage for events and arrivals.
He said rostering maxis on for big events and charging about $10 a head to fill them and get people home efficiently was something he was working on.
“There are things we can do when staffing is low and that’s what we need to do for the people of Mackay,” he said.
“Covid has been a double-edged sword – terrible for staffing but it has helped us develop better technology and better communication.
“We have been working on ensuring our call centres are better equipped, even giving them the local phone books so they can type all local businesses in so there’s a better understanding of where things are in the Mackay and Airlie Beach area.”
Mr Intelisano said anyone could apply to be a taxi driver if they had an open licence and they would just need a police background check similar to a blue card so they could pick up children and disabled clients.
“Once approved we do all the training and then off you go to earn money from day one,” he said.
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