Rage Against The Taximeter

Last Saturday night, on our way from Scarborough to Northbridge, myself and 2 fellow punters lined up at the cab rank on The Esplanade. There were no cabs in sight. There were, however, 2 young Italian looking guys in a tricked up Commodore sitting in the taxi rank.

“Fuck off you cunts! How are the taxis gonna get in?” We politely enquired.

“Where you guys going to?” Asked one of the guys in the car, who for the purpose of this article I will call Tony.

We told them we were going to Northbridge, they said they’d take us there for $10. Good deal, the usual metered fare is $20-25. We got there in record time, in a new, clean car, with the added benefit of a top-shelf CD Stacker pumping out very loud music. Probably the best taxi ride I’ve ever had in Australia, not to mention the cheapest.

I’m don’t think these guys didn’t have taxi licences, and they definitely didn’t have a meter. Nevertheless, we got where we wanted to go, and they got some much needed cash with which to put towards new low-profile tyres, or speakers, or whatever it is Italian teenagers spend their money on. (Pretty sure it’s the tyres.)

For someone like me and my mates, getting into a private vehicle with 2 strangers isn’t a particularly worrying situation. For a single woman travelling alone, it might be. This, to my mind, is the only sensible argument there is for taxi regulation: To ensure the security of the passengers.

In order to make sure none of our taxi drivers are going to rape, murder, or rip off their passengers, we restrict entry to the market by limiting the number of permits available. This makes them a tradable commodity, and a very valuable one. Taxi plates in WA currently go for about $300,000.

The high price you pay for taxis? It’s got nothing to do with the price of fuel, car maintenance, or driver wages, and everything to do with the artificial restrictions on the number of cabs allowed on the road.

About 8 years ago, I used to work as a hatchback courier for a small company in Perth. “Hatchback couriers” primarily deliver documents from business to business in the UBD and outer suburbs. Some of these deliveries were designated as “bullet jobs”. That is, they needed to be delivered ASAP. A bullet job pretty much required a pickup from point A and delivering directly to point B. None of the usual circular pickup and delivery routing that is the job of the couriers in proper vans.

You could probably afford to pick up or deliver 1 or 2 parcels if they were on the self-same road as one you were on, but otherwise you went direct and then resumed your other jobs afterwards.

A bullet courier job is pretty much identical to a taxi run, with 2 key differences:

a) You are transporting an envelope instead of a person.
b) It’s about 1/3 the price.

There’s no restrictions on the number of courier vehicles, you see. They have to actually compete for your business, rather than having it mandated by the government.

Of course, there’s also nothing illegal about a company finding a guy on the street and paying him to transport a letter from A to B. They prefer to use courier companies, because the courier’s need to cultivate a reputation is an assurance that the package will rely on time and undamaged. On the other hand, some people couldn’t give a stuff and would have no problem paying Timmy the street urchin $5 to run it to the other end of St. Georges Terrace.

This system seems to work fine for couriers. Why can’t it work for taxis? Unmarked, private cabs can service those customers who are more concerned with price than they are with cleanliness or conversation. Branded, metered taxis can still take care of those who’d prefer to know something about their car and driver. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Miranda Devine demonstrates that there is a burgeoning demand for higher-end taxi services as well:

With the tips and regular clients, trunk drivers, who mostly own their own cabs, can afford $64,000 or more on a top-line luxury Fairlane or Statesman. One driver has installed DVDs, TV and email access in the back seat of his luxurious leather-upholstered Fairlane. Kremydas will pick you up in a flash Mercedes, and if he can’t make it he will ring one of his Knightrider drivers, hand-picked for their excellent customer service.

Different consumers have different needs from their transport providers. Strange, but true.

(Side-Argument)

I also happen to believe that taxi deregulation will decrease the incidence of drink driving. Every trip away from home nowadays involves a risk-reward assessment:

Will I be drinking?
If yes, will it be enough to put me over the limit?
If yes, what are the chances of getting caught?

Weighing this up against a $50 round trip in a cab is sometimes a difficult decision.

Back when the penalty for being over .05 was a $200 fine, the benefit (saving $50 on a cab) was too good to pass up. You’d have to get caught at least one in four times to make taking the cab preferable option. Nowadays of course, they throw the book at you, so you need to be more convinced that you won’t get caught. The general rule is, if you have to travel down a major arterial road, take a cab instead. If you can hop across it and take the back streets, it’s all good.

The government’s response to this scenario is to simply keep increasing the fines to the point where getting caught for drink driving is heading rapidly towards a month’s wages. Reducing the price of cabs would have a similar effect, as well as benefitting the consumers who have motivations other than getting pissed.

(End Side-Argument)

The only winners from the present situation are the taxi plate owners. Everyone else is a big-time loser. Two groups are particularly affected:

a) Those on low incomes who rely on public transportation. For obvious reasons.
b) Unemployed/Underemployed car owners, who could be making themselves a buck by running people around. Like my mate Tony.

In fact, I think Tony’s actions last weekend are the best example of civil disobedience against unjust laws that we’ve seen in WA for a while. Nobody was hurt or offended, 2 parties engaged in a mutual exchange that left both better off than before, and the law was shown up for the ass that it is. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Catallaxy’s Andrew Norton’s thoughts on Taxi deregulation are here, along with a link to Jason Soon’s original article for the CIS’ “Policy” magazine.

Explore posts in the same categories: Business, Greatest Hits

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