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Greek community rallies against proposed taxi licence reforms in NSW

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Members of Sydney’s Greek community have been left angry and confused by new taxi licence plate reforms announced by the NSW Government recently, which are set to create a more competitive taxi sector.

When the taxi industry was first introduced in Australia decades ago, many Greek migrants decided to buy taxi or hire car licences from the government as they believed they were a safe investment.

According to the CEO of the NSW Taxi Council, Martin Rogers, a taxi licence, which allowed a business to provide ‘rank, hail and booked’ services, cost roughly $400,000 to buy in 2012 or $25,000 to lease. A hire car licence, which allowed a business to provide ‘booked’ services only, cost about $100,000 or they could be leased for around $8,000 a year.

But when rideshare services such as Uber came into the market, they chose not to pay the licence fee and in 2015 the NSW Government de-regulated the booked market, which meant there was no longer a requirement to pay for a licence to provide ‘booked’ services.

Mr Rogers tells The Greek Herald this de-regulation of the market saw people who owned a hire car licence lose not only a significant amount of business, but also the value of their licence ‘dropped to zero.’

In response, the NSW Government decided to buy back hire car licences from people who owned them for what they had originally bought it for, plus CPI to today’s value. For people who owned a taxi licence, the government provided $20,000 worth of income support which was taxed and capped at two licences.

CEO of the NSW Taxi Council, Martin Rogers.

But this is where Greeks across NSW continue to fight for their rights as those who own taxis still need a licence for ‘rank and hail’ services, but this licence has also lost around $300,000 in asset value because the ‘booked’ service, which made up part of their taxi licence value, is now free. In return, many tell The Greek Herald they haven’t received sufficient compensation.

An independent review and Upper House Inquiry into the impact of these taxi licence reforms were conducted in 2020, with the NSW Government accepting the independent review and its 24 recommendations by Sue Baker-Finch.

This has since led to Transport for NSW holding a number of webinars with taxi licence owners in September this year where they announced their new reforms. These include, but are not limited to, removing the limit on the number of taxi licences and removing restrictions on areas where taxis can operate.

“The government mentioned that what they want to do is cancel all existing taxi licences. So if you own a taxi licence, once the reforms come through, they’ll be gone. What you would then need to do to even operate a taxi is apply for an annual licence for one year through the Point to Point Transport Commission for about $200 a year,” Mr Rogers says.

The CEO then explained how during the webinar, Transport for NSW gave an “inappropriate example” of how taxi licence owners could potentially be compensated for this cancellation. They said owners could be given $50,000 for each licence, but it will be capped at two licences. Anything over that will not be compensated, amounting in huge losses for many Greeks who, as stated, initially paid around $400,000 for a licence.

‘We feel very betrayed’:

Roula Angelopoulos.

Roula Angelopoulos and her sister Theony are some of these Greeks who stand to lose a lot from these reforms as they not only own quite a few taxi licences, but they also operate taxis as well.

She tells The Greek Herald her losses are in the millions since the introduction of rideshare services into the market.

“I have no issue with any ride-share app. I have an issue with the government that betrayed us, sneakily legalised it and didn’t implement changes for us first,” Ms Angelopoulos says.

“People invested a lot of money to buy a licence. Some of them put their homes as collateral… the government didn’t do the right thing.”

Now, she says, the government wants to cancel the licence plates without a buy-back or compensation for each which is ‘so unfair.’

“That’s why I’ve been speaking up because I can’t expect an older Greek couple who has invested all their life savings for their superannuation to be rorted like this and they can’t speak. They don’t have a voice.”

Elpida Makris is another Greek woman who reached out to The Greek Herald to voice her own disappointment with the reforms announced during the webinar. Elpida owns only one taxi licence, but she says it was still a huge investment for her at the time.

Elpida Makris is also against the reforms.

“A lot of people borrowed money from the bank and pay interest and a lot of people who bought a licence after 2015, they still haven’t paid it off and the government want to destroy the numbers without paying off the people,” Ms Makris says.

“I feel very betrayed by the government. That’s not fair the way they do it.”

Building momentum for proper compensation:

The NSW Shadow Minister for Small Business, Property and Multiculturalism, Steve Kamper MP, has been campaigning for years for people in similar situations to Ms Makris and Ms Angelopoulos to receive adequate compensation.

“Compensate these people properly, enough is enough. It’s unjust what they’ve done. Let’s not get caught up in the argument of which service is better. It’s not about that,” Mr Kamper tells The Greek Herald.

“It’s the fact that there were people that invested in a government supported, government sponsored point to point transport system. No one invests in a system, through licenced investment, thinking the government’s going to renege on them and that it’s going to destroy it overnight. That’s what they did.”

Mr Kamper says to rectify this, the government should utilise the money collected over time from a $1.10 passenger service levy to fund compensation.

“What we’re arguing is to just leave the levy in there. Everyone is used to it now… and through that levy over time, pay off all the taxi plate owners with proper compensation,” he says.

“That’s the key mechanism… that’s the revenue that underpins compensation.”

Steve Kamper MP has been pushing for compensation for taxi licence owners for years.

Mr Rogers from the NSW Taxi Council agrees with Mr Kamper and says whilst his organisation is not against reform, the ‘right level of assistance’ needs to be provided.

“Some of these people who have come into this industry, it is their end of career job. They’ve bought it when they’re 50 years old or 60 years old as an opportunity to use it and then they’d sell it into retirement. There’s a number of them who still have a loan against their licence… and they’re feeling like a bit of a failure and will leave their family with a debt and a burden,” Mr Rogers stresses.

“We need fair and just assistance for licence owners based on the value of their licence in 2015 and we need to have a future model that focuses on vehicle utilisation that delivers appropriate driver earnings rather than, as suggested, unlimited vehicles for both rideshare and taxis.

“Because what I don’t want to see is a lot of empty vehicles adding to emissions, adding to congestion and drivers not earning the appropriate level that they need to.”

But of course, to get this appropriate level of compensation, a call to action by the Greek community in NSW is also needed.

“A chorus sings louder than any one person and it’s important that we all join together and be part of that chorus. I encourage every licence owner to visit their local MP and explain to them their concerns,” Mr Rogers concludes.

Comment from Transport for NSW spokesperson to The Greek Herald:

“Currently taxis are limited in their ability to put on new vehicles to compete with other operators such as rideshare, who face no such constraints,” the Transport for NSW spokesperson said in a statement.

“However, our proposed reforms, which include removing the limit on the number of taxi licences available, will address this imbalance by making taxi licences available on application and therefore creating a more even playing field enabling taxis to better compete with other services.

“Taxi service providers will have more choice and flexibility about how they respond to market changes – either by putting on more taxis, expanding their fleets to include hire vehicles, specialising in rank and hail services only, or providing other niche services.

“We are now consulting with taxi licence owners affected by the proposed reforms about setting up an appropriate industry assistance scheme before any changes are made.

“Our focus, like it’s always been, is to support and guide industry, particularly those most affected, through this transition.”

The Greek Herald will continue to advocate for Greek community members who stand to be impacted by these new taxi licence reforms. If you have a similar issue, you can call us on: 9566 0500 or email: info@foreignlanguage.com.au.

If you have been affected, you can also make a complaint via this email: pointtopoint@transport.nsw.gov.au.

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