TCQ’s “Illegal Taxi Fighting Fund”

Like its counterparts in every other state the Taxi Council Queensland has spent the past two years lobbying government ministers and bureaucrats and every MP who could be bothered to listen to the arguments against UberX in particular and ‘ridesharing’ in general. And like the rest it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on public scare campaigns, lobbyists and lawyers, all to no avail. UberX is expanding and growing unhindered. In response TCQ in its wisdom, has laid out a battle plan for the next three years for more of the same at an estimated cost of $3.6 million to be gouged from the state’s 2,800 scared plate owners. As the Palaszcuk Government will be making a decision on the future of Queensland’s “Personal Transport Services” including ‘ridesharing’ before the end of the year, whichever way that goes, it will be ‘game, set and match’. It therefore seems absurd to lay out a 3-year strategic plan to fight a battle that will be either won or lost in 6 months time. What is even more absurd is to adopt the same strategy that failed to work over the previous two years.

by Tim Hoi

Nobody can claim TCQ (Taxi Council Queensland) has not worked hard to stop Uber. Its CEO Benjamin Wash and chairman Max McBride must be hoarse from all the talking. Unfortunately it hasn’t paid off. Uber continues to grow like a cancer as the government has abandoned all attempts to enforce the law against either its drivers or the company itself.

Only Bob Katter’s Australian Party seemed to understand the urgency of affirmative government action to stop Uber from making the state’s political class look like a bunch of dithering incompetent fools. It presented a Private Member’s Bill to parliament for the authorities to issue demerit points to UberX drivers when they were caught operating as illegal taxis. The bill was tabled in September 2015. Had it been passed and enforced at that time there wouldn’t have been an UberX driver left in Queensland by Christmas. But no, instead it was sent to the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee (IPNRC) for review.

Tut, tut – now 6 months later the IPNRC’s review is finally over and to everybody’s surprise it’s a cracker. Its recommendations go much further than the Katter Bill. It recommends that in addition to demerit points, additional measures, such as substantially increasing the fine and making non-compliance a criminal offence, be introduced as a matter of urgency and that the Minister for Transport take immediate action “to develop options for ensuring that compliance with the current regulatory system is enforced”.

“The committee is strongly of the view that providers of personalised transport services should comply with the regulatory requirements currently in place”, the committee’s chairman, Jim Pearce MP, wrote in his foreword to its report.

“Minister for Transport take immediate action” ha, ha, ho, ho!

The so-called independent Personalised Transport Services Review (PTSR), which was established by the Queensland Government in October 2015, is due to report back in August 2016. That’s about the time it will take the government to write and pass the new enforcement laws and by then ‘ridesharing’ will most likely become legalised in one form or another. For one, it will give Queensland mineworkers something to do with their big new SUV’s while they collect the dole and look for a real job. That’s the pragmatic political “Big Picture”!

For the taxi industry or rather for the TCQ there is also a ‘big picture’ and it will allegedly cost $3.6 million to paint and take three years to finish. The state’s 2,800 plate owners (TCQ’s estimate) have been asked to pay $1,080 + GST for each plate they own into the TCQ’s “Illegal Taxi Fighting Fund”. A “Member Update” was sent out in January setting out the history of Council’s hard work in its campaign against ‘ridesharing’. It appears that after spending more than $1 million, previously raised from ‘members’, it has achieved absolutely nothing. UberX is still operating. The Katter bill, a source has told OZ Cabbie, was not a TCQ achievement although it did meet with Rob Katter (Bob’s son), the MP for Mount Isa, to discuss his bill. Whether its lobbying efforts and submissions to the IPNRC influenced the committee’s recommendations is unknown, however, as explained above, they too are unlikely to affect Uber.

More fascinating is TCQ’s future strategy and expenditure schedule for the next three years, set out in glorious detail year by year. There is even a page showing four easy ways for members to pay into the fund. $1,080 up front, $360 annually for 3 years on line or by direct debit in monthly, quarterly or annual instalments.

Whether all plate-owners pay up, now that’s the $3.6 million question. Some of those OZ Cabbie has spoken to categorically rejected the request.

“Max McBride told us Townsville licence owners at a meeting last year that TCQ was not raising the issue of licence values, so what are we paying them to do? Our licence is our super”, wrote one.

“They should have taken Uber to court, like that ‘Arresting Uber’ guy in Sydney did, instead of wasting my money on fruitless lobbyists and consultants. They could have stopped Uber a year ago”, wrote another.

“Why is TCQ asking me to support a three year campaign to stop ridesharing when the government will make a decision one way or the other in August?” a third asked on the phone.

I could have tried to put these and other questions to TCQ but from past experience we are not on speaking terms. Should I receive a response from Mr Wash to this article we will certainly consider publishing it. No more than 1000 words please. In the meantime I’ll try to rationalise the logic behind the council’s strange 3-year strategy.

It plans to spend $1.4 million in 2016: $500,000 on advertising and PR, $350,000 on help with preparing submissions to the PTSR, $250,000 on social media management, $150,000 on a lobbyist firm and $150,000 on legal advice. In 2017 and 2018 it doesn’t expect any need for help with submissions, so that $350,000 is dropped from the budget in those years, but the rest remain much the same. Oh, and there is an extra $100,000 for social media management in 2017.

The questions raised by the three owners above are valid ones. The fund they have been asked to contribute to is called the ‘Illegal Taxi Fighting Fund’. Before the end of the year the future legality of ‘ridesharing’ will have been decided. If it remains illegal Uber will shut down UberX as it has in every other jurisdiction where the authorities have enforced the law against both the company and its drivers. If not, it is no longer an illegal service and the ‘fighting fund’ becomes superfluous. Whilst there is some justification for spending big before the PTSR is released, there is none after. Some say they suspect TCQ has most of the $3.6 million earmarked for something totally unrelated, namely the promotion of the ihail app, owners of which include Yellow Cabs and Black & White Cabs in Brisbane who together control TCQ.

Those of you who follow the business news will already be aware that ihail Pty Ltd, a consortium of four major networks plus Cabcharge, MTData and the NSW Taxi Council, after a 12-month fight with the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission), has just been given the green light to launch its new app. There is absolutely no reason why Queensland plate owners should finance the establishment and promotion of this private company. Ihail will not protect the value of their plates should ridesharing become legal. Nothing will. The best they can hope for is that the TCQ dumps its current strategy and spends their ‘donations’ on a legal challenge against the state government for a fair government buy-back of all perpetual licences.

Our editor, Peer Lindholdt, wrote in OZ Cabbie four years ago that the only way the networks could compete with the new independent booking apps like ingogo, goCatch and Uber was to copy their most popular features. There is still no evidence that ihail has adopted the feature most popular with passengers and drivers alike, which is direct communication via their smartphones. “It’s fundamental dear Watson”.

I invite the TCQ to assure our readers that the $3.6 million it hopes to raise will be used for no other purpose than to stop the legalisation of ‘ridesharing’ and that not a penny of that money will be spent in support of ihail Pty Ltd unless explicitly agreed to by the individual plate owner. Over and out! •

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OZ Cabbie February 2017

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