Many Greek taxi owners believe they will face financial ruin and no superannuation if the government chooses to pass on the Fels Taxi Review.
Professor Allan Fels’ Taxi Industry Review outlines a plan to sell taxi licences to owner-operators for just $20,000, when the current industry average is around $500,000.
With the Greek community making up a large sum of taxi owners and drivers, many believe this measure will send them broke.
Nick Andriannakis who owns three licences and has spent his life savings accumulating them finds it hard to believe that his investment will be nullified.
“I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I could have invested that money in a super fund or in a property or other investments, but no, I pursued taxis and now I’ve got nothing to show for it,” he told Neos Kosmos.
“At the time I bought it [the licence], it was do you buy a house or buy a business?” he said.
In an attempt to boost competition, Professor Fels believes the licenses are a competitive way to increase cab numbers on the roads and provide a cheaper way for people to enter into the industry.
“Yes, there will be howls of protest over the licensing reforms, but we cannot hold the public hostage to keeping up the value of licenses at half a million,” Professor Fels told the ABC.
Victoria is the first state to formally dispute the review and the Victorian Taxi Association is leading the talks.
The Association is arguing that de-regulating licences will only increase cab fares and hurt the customer’s pocket.
“Where deregulation of taxi licences has occurred, taxi fares have increased and Service standards have not improved. In many places they have deteriorated,” the Association said.
Similar laws enacted in New Zealand found cab fares increased and had no effect on standards.
Greek taxi owner and driver, George Katsimalis, knows full well that this reform will destroy future income and retirement for many who have invested.
Encountering Professor Fels in his cab, Mr Katsimalis was first to bring up the topic of licencing.
When Mr Katsimalis posed the question if he could buy Fels’ Prahan house for $500,000, Professor Fels was shocked and said his house was worth much more than that.
Katsimalis mentioned “So is my licence but you want it to be worth next to nothing”.
Many protests and meetings have taken place in Victoria to try and get the message across to parliamentarians as they discuss reforms.
At a meeting for Taxi Industry Stakeholders in Victoria, attended by over 1500 owners and drivers, there was an air of despair.
One mother of three told the crowd that she had only just bought a $475,000 taxi licence six months ago. Now she stands to loose everything if licences are devalued.
All agree that reform is necessary and a good thing for the taxi industry, but many owners don’t see licences as a place to start those reforms.
Minister for Transport, Terry Mulder believes that reforms are desperately needed for an industry he thinks has been neglected.
In his speech to parliament introducing the Taxi Services Reform and Other Matters Bill in 2011, he stressed public dissatisfaction.
“The problems driving customer dissatisfaction are clear: the long queues for a taxi in the Melbourne CBD and other entertainment districts on a Friday or Saturday night, drivers who do not know where to go, taxis that do not turn up, drivers who will not accept a short fare, violent incidents and unsafe behaviour,” he said.
Away from the local dissatisfaction, Minister Mulder rightly identified the bad impression visitors are met with at the airport.
“Victorians are embarrassed when a dirty taxi or a poorly trained driver gives international visitors an unfavourable first impression of Melbourne,” he said in Parliament.
Customer satisfaction must go up, and many believe that can only be accomplished with better drivers and cleaner cabs.
Mr Andriannakis knows that many fear catching a cab late at night and dread being knocked back for a short fare.
“We need safer cars on the road and better trained drivers. A better trained driver won’t knock back a fair. The new drivers seem to select their fairs,” he said.
The $5 billion a year industry hasn’t seen big reform since the Kennett years. The industry processes 200 million trips a year.