R asked if I knew what these new grey taxis were. I had not seen them, but the very next day I saw a couple of them. Perhaps I had been primed to take notice. They are Silver Service taxis. We used one to take us and the about to become bride and groom from Potts Point in Sydney to the Botanic Gardens when we were the wedding planners for R's English sister and her now husband in about 2005. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the wedding. I am fairly sure these taxis have been seen here in Melbourne before.
R stated that Melbourne needed mini cabs, as they have in England. I disagreed. England has a two tier taxi system, proper taxis and mini cabs and there are heavy restrictions on how both operate. Essentially if you want a mini cab, which are cheaper, you have to call them.
You will of course have heard of The Knowledge that London cabbies have to sit. They need to know almost every little back street of London before they are allowed to drive London cabs. I suspect once they pass the test, taxi driving is quite lucrative for them, but the do have to pass The Knowledge first. Melbourne supposedly had a knowledge test, but it seems it was very perfunctory and drivers passed quite easily, and helped to get over the line if they were struggling.
So in an effort to fix Melbourne's taxis, a new knowledge test has been introduced, a much harder one, that has to be sat by new drivers and any driver with less than five years driving experience. I am not surprised to learn that all of the drivers with less than five years experience failed, bar one female driver. Of course they would fail. Most of our taxi drivers are recent immigrants. It is such a poorly paid job with awful conditions that no one other than the desperate and most recent immigrants would do it. It wasn't always the case. There used to some quite professional long time drivers, but they have mostly gone. I am not a huge user of taxis and I've had good and bad experiences, more good.
And now there is Uber and similar companies offering a more personalised and from what I see, a better service.
On top of that, there are hire cars, that cost a bit more than taxis but with a fixed fare. You get a nicer and clean car and a well groomed driver and they are reliable, unlike taxis.
Perth in West Australia has successfully trialled London style cabs and they are coming to Melbourne too. With GM and Ford pulling out their local car manufacturing from Australia and the Holden and Falcon will disappear, it is high time to rethink what the shape of our taxi vehicles is to be.
Melbourne's, and I think generally Australian taxi drivers are in quite an unusual situation. They should be employees, but instead they are private businesses, who have to to pay all sorts of costs that are normally paid by an employer. For this they get just over half of their fare collection. No holiday pay, no sick leave, no long service, no nothing and pay their own tax. While our minimum paid wage is around $20 an hour, taxi drivers average something like $9 an hour.
Can we really expect a professional and good service from people who are paid so little?