Point to Point Transport Amendment Bill 2022
(Second Reading Debate, 15 November 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Point to Point Transport (Taxis and Hire Vehicle) Amendment Bill 2022 will wholly deregulate the point to point transport industry by cancelling all taxi plate licences and removing most remaining restrictions on taxis, including regulated taxi fares. Taxis and rideshares are a vital part of the State's public transport network. Good, affordable, reliable point to point transport promotes economic activity and movement across our city, reduces car use and car ownership, and can prevent driving under the influence or intoxicated people roaming the streets after a night out. I am not confident that the additional deregulation in the bill will produce the point to point industry that the community needs. I worry about the loss of any price regulation in terms of customer fares and driver wages, of any guarantee of needs-based services like disability cabs and cash payments, and of reduced services in unprofitable times and regions.
A constituent of mine who uses a wheelchair reports that getting a wheelchair-accessible service has become impossible and he is forced to wait over two hours. Previously he only had to wait minutes. Even the cuts to travel prices with the introduction of rideshare have not been long lasting, with surge pricing now a regular occurrence. How will prices change without the competition guaranteed by standardised taxi pricing? Rideshare providers take a greater cut of fares than taxi companies, leading to lower-paid drivers and an increasingly transient workforce. Transient workers will likely become entrenched in the industry as taxi plate licence owners leave. The Government has decided that deregulation is the way forward for the point to point industry and my focus in this restructure will be to protect the mini taxi licence plate holders whose government-controlled assets, which they purchased to provide government-controlled services, are set to be annulled. As a result of the bill, these licence plate holders will have nothing.
Taxi licence plate holders are small business operators, many of whom are migrants, who worked hard to build a future for themselves and their families. They bought taxi licence plates because it was a safe and honest way to earn a modest but good income and invest in their retirement. Because the taxi industry was regulated by the State Government, which set everything from passenger fares to licence quantities and minimum requirements on insurance, driver knowledge and vehicle standards, people were willing to take out loans and the banks were willing to lend money for plates. Income and returns were secure in what was a heavily regulated industry.
But the government restructured the industry in 2016 to facilitate the entry of rideshare. Taxi licence plate holders were promised that the changes would level the playing field, but that has not occurred, with the value of cab plates plummeting along with income. People lost their homes, were forced onto income supports and found they could no longer pay off their debts. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem by diminishing work. Many licence holders are now working long hours way past their retirement age. They are not rich people who lost capital in a diverse investment portfolio or from speculating on the free market. They are hardworking people who bought a government-controlled licence. With this next stage of deregulation, collectively taxi licence plate holders are set to lose $1.6 billion. That loss is the responsibility of the Government, and the Government should arrange appropriate compensation.
I welcome improvements to the package that was previously presented, and I thank the Government for coming back with something more compassionate. But the package will not even cover half of what licence plate holders have lost. There is nothing to ensure that people can pay off debts against their licence or for those who sold their plates for a pittance to reduce loans. In 2016, the Government paid the full value of hire car licences when they were cancelled. What makes a taxi licence plate different? I am most concerned about people who still have debts owing. They will no longer have any asset against their loan.
I will talk about three real life examples of people who will remain in debt after they receive assistance under the bill. Ross Papas is a family man who has eight metro licences. He has already had to sell his family home and will not even be compensated for all the licences he owns. Peter Sorras has two young children. He took out a loan with his wife to buy a licence, paying over $350,000. They still have over $300,000 owing. In the Central Coast, Robert Rattay partnered with the Government, paying $400,000 per licence for three 50-year licences. The agreement has 40 years remaining, yet the Government will cancel that agreement, pocket the money it took from him and leave him in debt. But the impacts will be felt more widely than those who are in debt.
On 20 October I attended and spoke at a rally attended by over 500 taxi plate owners at Martin Place. They feel abandoned by the Government and by the Parliament. The way they see it, they did the right thing by investing in a safe, regulated government asset only to be sacrificed when the Government saw that asset as no longer useful. I will read one of the signs I saw at the rally, which was extremely moving. It was by a gentleman whose name is Kerry Koliadis. The sign read:
Dear Premier and Treasurer of NSW.
58 years ago when I arrived in my new beautiful country Australia, my dream was to work hard and become a self -funded retiree, so our government will have more money in order to help other Australians in real need.
You and your government have destroyed that dream of mine! Now I am receiving part pension. I feel ashamed of myself of doing so!
As I am a very proud Australian citizen.
We are asking taxi licence plate holders to shoulder the bulk of the burden to reshape the industry. The marginal increase and extension to the passenger service levy is a small contribution passengers can make to compensate those who took us where we needed to go for decades. It is a small price to stop them from experiencing financial ruin and enabling them to retire. I think more can be done to make the package fairer. I welcome amendments put forward by Labor for a review of the bill, which I understand will include the adequacy of the assistance package. The review will need to cover those still in debt and deliver further reforms to prevent hardship. I hope the bill can at least improve the quality of life of licence plate holders who have suffered from years of loss and uncertainty.