Corruption within the Wollongong taxi industry has been enormously down-played, according to a local taxi driver. A number of incidents where drivers have acted inappropriately have not been dealt with by Wollongong Radio Cabs or its governing body, NSW Taxi Council, says the source, who did not wish to be named.
“It’s ludicrous, the things that happen,” says the source, who has been driving taxis in Wollongong for a number of years.
“The stories that you hear of drivers assaulting passengers, drivers being rude, uncooperative or overcharging. I've had young blokes in the car tell me they've been dragged out of taxis and bashed. Stuff like that. I've had a girl in the car who told me that she was driven to a remote spot and the driver tried to sexually assault her. Now whether this is true or not, I don't know. The thing is, if it gets reported…what would happen? Swept under the carpet,” says the source.
Other incidents involving fraud have also been dealt with poorly, he says.
“One guy in Corrimal got done for 286 counts of fraud,” says the source. He is referring to Mohamad Matar, a former taxi owner who used fraudulent Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme vouchers in the name of a deceased hospital patient in 2005.
“He's still got about ten plates I hear,” says the source, “They're spread between his relatives and wife and so he's basically still running it from Corrimal. They took his license from him, but he's still running the business. It's as if it doesn't make any difference, except he can't drive a taxi. It's crazy, the stuff they get away with.”
In the taxi industry in Wollongong it’s all about who you know, the source says.
“Here's a classic story. One taxi driver, he's getting a lot of jobs. All the other taxi drivers are sitting on the rank, they're not working. He's whizzing past doing all these jobs all the time, all day! He's making two to three times as much as everyone else,” he says.
“Then they find out he's in with one of the operators. So when a good job comes through, the operator was just texting him the address and then he's going to get it and he's making a fortune. That person is still working at the base!”
There are times when good jobs are few and far between, says the source, who has sat at a rank for up to four-and-a-half hours during a shift.
“On Tuesday night I went out and made $60. That was it. You get no holiday pay, no superannuation and no sick pay. You do the maths.”
In Wollongong, drivers pay the owners of the taxi 50% of what they make during a shift. The taxi owners pays for the upkeep of the taxi and fuel costs. To be a taxi owner, a person must buy a set of plates, which are around $240,000, then they can lease, or ‘bail’ the taxi out to drivers. Some owners choose to become drivers, whilst others have nothing to do with the industry and treat the plates as an investment.
“There's a group of director's, I think there's seven,” says the source. “They're on the road, so if something happens, you're supposed to be able to approach a director and report it. But, depending on who you get, I mean, they just don't do anything.”
Recently, a driver was caught using Department of Education vouchers fraudulently, says the source. The driver routinely drove a child to school who received subsidised fares from the Department of Education. The source says that the driver would fill in the vouchers even when the child was sick and wasn’t going to school.
“He drove the route every day and put in the dockets,” says the source. “Got caught, but nothing's happened. He got removed from doing those jobs, but he's still driving. I saw him on the rank last night!”
In order to combat the problem of corruption within the Wollongong taxi industry, the source says that the base needs to be separate from the local area.
“They could have the base in Sydney, it doesn't have to be here. It doesn't have to be employing local people, or relatives of people that are driving taxis. Then it’ll be a fair system,” he says.
The new job allocation system, MT Data, helps with making call-in jobs fairer, but for pre-booked jobs, there’s still a problem.
“I'm thinking about it now. If I worked in the base and my brother worked out in the taxi and I could see a job's going from Figtree to Mascot tomorrow morning, I’d probably do it myself! I'd tell him. The only way they can stop the corruption is to remove the base from the area,” says the source.
He also suggests that the way that complaints are reported needs to be re-evaluated.
“There needs to be an independent body of people looking at the complaint. Not these relatives or friends. If I put a complaint in against someone, it could be a brother of one of the directors that's looking at the complaint. How fair's that?”
He suggests that The NSW Roads and Maritime Services needs to look at complaints independently, or allocate a group to do so. He believes this will improve the fairness of job allocation and stop complaints against drivers being swept under the carpet.
“Taxi drivers are supposed to be honest, but all I see is corruption thriving,” says the source.