I wrote a bit of a rant about 3 and half years ago, about the Canberra taxi sharing rate. It’s
old, so I’m sure the system has changed since then, but for some reason I still get
blog comments, usually from people who don’t understand the system, or a driver with
no idea what it’s like to be a passenger.
Anyway, it’s time to turn on the Sydney taxi system, which is completely
stuffed, and was recently voted the worst in
all of Australia by the Tourist and Transport
We live in Newtown, a fairly arty yet very busy middle income area of Sydney,
which if you’re not taking the tollway between the CBD and the airport, is pretty
much mid-way between them, but again, lots of people live and work in the area. But
therein lies the problem, cabbies would rather go to the CBD or airport than pick
up a Newtown fare that could be going anywhere. I catch cabs several times a week,
so how do I fare? A few examples are in order.
My girlfriend booked a cab over the phone around 6:30am on a weekday morning,
and was told “first available”, which seems to be the layman’s translation of “good
fucking luck if anyone happens to be in your area”. After several calls, and 30
minutes, there was no cab, so she called a third time to complain, at which point
they cancelled the cab that said he was on his way, and organised for another cab
company to take the booking. Meanwhile, the cab that was cancelled, came past our
house, but decided not to stop and take the booking. After an hour, she finally got
her cab, at the expense of an important meeting.
3pm is shift changeover. If you want a cab within 30 minutes of 3pm, you’re
stuffed. Cabs will even drive past you with their light on (“available”) but won’t
One day at a big taxi rank in town, I was waiting for a cab at around 2:30pm. I
was at the head of the rank, so I should have gotten the next one. Two cabs turn up
at the rank, but park at the rear of the rank. There used to be a law that if a
taxi joins the rank, then they must take you wherever you want to go, and I have a
feeling the law is now extended to anywhere, not just at a rank. However cabs these
days seem to think they can sit at the back of the rank, get out of their vehicle,
walk down to the line of people and ask if anyone’s going to a high fare area, or
somewhere on the way to their shift changeover location. If they don’t want to take
the chance of getting a good fare at 3pm, then just don’t take any fares! It breaks
the system, and makes people unhappy and pissed off with taxi drivers.
This is what happened on this particular day, and it took 45 minutes to get a
cab at this major CBD rank. Meanwhile other cabs are driving into the rank,
dropping people off, and then driving away empty. After 20 minutes had passed, a
cab turns up at the head of the rank and drops people off, I try to get into the
cab, but he says he’s not taking bookings and drives off. I joke with the guy
behind me about arsehole cab drivers. Then two turn up to drop off passengers,
again at the head of the rank. The guy behind me goes to the second cab, who let’s
him in, but the first cab doesn’t let me in, he’s not taking bookings. So the guy
behind me decides he’s waited long enough and just drives off. Passengers can be
The other week I booked a cab for 9am at the corner of my street and King
Street, the major through road in the area. Two cabs came past with their light on,
and both said that they weren’t the ones who had accepted the booking, even though
they were from the same company as the booking. WTF? I ended up getting into the
second one, and called the company to cancel the booking, but twice when I was half
way through their automated booking system, they hung up on me, so I gave up
bothering to let them know. I don’t know whether my number is now logged, but I
definitely get a lot of late cabs these days.
“first available” cab bookings used to work by calling out the job over the taxi
radio, and whichever driver hit “accept” or whatever the button is called on their
radio, they would get the job. The driver was supposed to only take the job if they
were in the area and within a few minutes of being free. However I’ve had lots of
cabs where while we’re way outside the area of my destination, they will switch
their radio to where we’re going to be in 20 minutes, and accept any job they hear.
No wonder it always takes so long to get a cab.
Sure, cabbies have it tough, but they have a choice of whether to be one or not,
and they have a choice of whether to be nice to people or to mess with the system.
Today my girlfriend and I got into a cab in town, and were on our way home. We hit
traffic from a big accident about half way, and decided to get out and walk, but we
didn’t because the cabbie would be out of a fare AND stuck in traffic. However he
overheard us talking and said it would be fine if we wanted to get out. So I gave
him a big tip and we got out. Meanwhile, around the next corner, the accident had
cleared, so he pulled over and waited for the 2 minutes it took us to catch up by
walking, and asked if we’d like to have the rest of our journey for free. The tip
wouldn’t have covered the distance, but he still offered. It’s nice to be nice,
nice makes nice.
A few years back, cabbies started messing with the first available system, by
giving their business cards to passengers who have big regular fares. Many of the
cabs that take jobs from the airport, are because a regular customer called them
direct on their mobile, and asked them to be picked up. The state government
decides on how many taxi licenses to hand out, based on how many they think the
city can handle. When many of these are used for private paid transport, it’s no
wonder that people not bucking the system, have to wait so long for a cab.
This is against the law by the way, and to combat this, a lot of taxi drivers
have changed themselves into private hire transport, outside the taxi system,
because they can make more money that way. This in effect brings in more
inexperienced cabbies into the taxi system.
I met one cabbie who had two other mates who also drove taxis, and they’d spent
most of their time on the phone co-ordinating their private bookings and looking
after each other. His excuse was that they were now competing with the hire
transport guys for fares, and so had to optimise their fares in order to survive.
And this is one of the main problems with Sydney’s taxi system, the drivers mess
with the system, the broken system then annoys the customers, and the drivers
respond by saying “fuck you” to the customers and even more trying to optimise
their bucking of the system.
So for you you taxi customers out there, the best way to work with the system,
and get a cab when you want it, is to book with Silver Service, over the Internet,
for a specific date and time, ahead of that time.
It is ironic that the moment when you need a cab most urgently, that being right
now without any warning, cab companies treat this as “first available”, which
effectively gives it the lowest priority of all taxi bookings.
In closing, I should mention the infamous taxi round about problem. You’re
waiting on a city block for a cab. You haven’t booked one, and the closest rank is
too far away or is empty, so you’re just going to call one over when you see it.
Problem is, there’s another person nearby who also wants a cab, so they stand 10-20
metres in front of you, and end up getting the first cab. If you see someone
standing in front of you, do you then move another 10-20 metres around the block?
Eventually you’ll end up where you started from.
Or what about the rank stalker? These are people who stand 5-10 metres in front
of the cab rank, so they can grab the next taxi just before it gets to the rank. I
was in town one Thursday night with three of us at a main rank, and had four
different people steal incoming cabs just before they hit the rank. Surely cab
drivers would try to respect the system when they’ll still get a fare if they go
the extra 10 metres to the rank? Or maybe outside the rank they can at least check
to see where the person is going before taking the job.
All I ask of the taxi system is that a taxi turns up when I need it, and it takes me to where I want to go. Is this too much to ask?
The Sydney taxi system is screwed, and something needs to be done about it. It’s
not like you can catch public transport instead, because it’s also stuffed.