Taxi drivers and the passengers who rely on them could both be worse off under fare reforms proposed by the Victorian government, the head of Bendigo's taxi association has said.
Legislation that would see cab companies set their own fares was this week introduced into the state’s parliament, a move Bendigo Taxis manager Colin Wells said “held a gun to the head” of customers unable to afford a bidding war.
Mr Wells described passengers who were unable to drive as his industry’s “bread and butter”, people he said were typically from a lower socio-economic background.
“The potential for isolation of the already disadvantaged is massive,” Mr Wells said.
“The people who rely on us to get to doctor’s appointments, to get their groceries, suddenly have no service available to them.
"We are an essential service to those who rely on us, so you then can't have a a two-tier system.”
The problem would worsen during major events, Mr Wells said, with drivers leaving vulnerable clients stranded in a bid to find peak fares.
The reforms would also require drivers to provide passengers with fare estimates, meaning those looking for a lift at quieter times could “driver shop” for the lowest possible fare.
Drivers desperate for work be forced to drastically drop rates just to make a living, Mr Wells said.
But that was the purpose of the reforms, transport minister Jacinta Allan told Fairfax Media this week.
“"With more services, more competition. We expect to see prices come down and indeed industry providers have already signalled that they expect to see prices come down,” the Bendigo East MP said.
While Mr Wells was pleased the government were trying to level the playing field since the introduction of ridesharing services, like Uber, he did not believe the proposed changes would work.
“Something needed to be done, this is something, but I think they're along way from what they wanted,” he said.
His comments come as competition between taxi providers in Bendigo heats up; Uber and Shebah are expected to start services this month, and 13CABS is already in operation.
13CABS plans on putting 50 new taxis on Bendigo roads before Christmas, which would double the number of cabs in the city.
General manager David Samuel said Bendigo was under-serviced by taxis, with a lower vehicle-to-person ratio than in similarly sized cities, like Ballarat.
"We believe it’s time the people of Bendigo got more options in regards to the transport services at their disposal, and how they are able to access these services,” Mr Samuel said.
Mr Wells said it was unsurprising 13CABS wanted a piece of the Bendigo market but believed long-term customers would remain loyal to his business.
“We've been here for 50 plus years, we want to be here for another 50 plus years,” he said.
Ride-sharing services Uber and Shebah will also begin services in Bendigo this month.