Victorian Taxi Drivers threaten to blockade

Desperate taxi licence holders and taxi drivers, including one of the heroes of last month’s Bourke Street tragedy, have threatened to blockade the Bolte Bridge in both directions on Monday morning, creating peak-hour gridlock on the edge of the city.

The half-hour blockade of Melbourne’s second busiest bridge is scheduled to take place between 8.30am and 9am, before the protesters move on to the steps of Parliament House.

The protest action is being led by Victorian Taxi and Hire Car Families, a lobby group made up of taxi licence owners who are furious with the Andrews government over its recent moves to deregulate the taxi and hire car industries.  

Lou Bougias, the taxi driver who came to the aid of injured victims during last month’s deadly Bourke Street rampage, will address the rally on Parliament’s front steps at Spring Street.

Mr Bougias has been celebrated for his bravery and calmness when he comforted victims and directed other stunned bystanders to help in the immediate aftermath of Jimmy Gargasoulas’ alleged killing of six people on Bourke Street. 

Taxi driver Lou Bougias has been praised for his actions in the aftermath of the Bourke Street tragedy.
Taxi driver Lou Bougias has been praised for his actions in the aftermath of the Bourke Street tragedy. Photo: Penny Stephens

Details of Monday’s planned blockade have been published on Facebook.

“Every taxi and hire car please present at either Essendon Fields Coles or Todd Rd inbound service station @7.50am,” the notice states.

“All taxis and hire cars will stop on the Bolte Bridge for half an hour, then move to Parliament for a media conference with Lou the hero cabbie. All license owners please be at Parliament at 8.30am. THIS IS OUR LAST STAND AS LEGISLATION WILL BE INTRODUCED NEXT WEEK. BUYBACK BUYFAIR…..WE WILL GRIDLOCK THE BOLTE AND THE CBD…ALL IN.”

The Age has separately been told the bridge blockade might be the first of a series of disruptive protests by the group, and that its members have proposed causing similar transport chaos during the Australian Grand Prix and Avalon Air Show in March.

Sandy Spanos, a spokeswoman for Victorian Taxi and Hire Car Families, said licence holders did not want to protest in such an extreme way, but believed their plight was being ignored by government.

“We never ever wanted to get to this point,” she said. “I’m not an activist, I’m a suburban mum and grandma, but they’re forcing our hand.”

The Age, News, picture by Justin McManus 10/09/2015.Taxi Driver protest at Parliament house. Taxi drivers protesting over the Uber S App that they say is destroying their business. Taxi’s parked up outside Parliament House.
A previous taxi protest and blockade at Parliament House. Photo: Justin McManus

The Andrews government unveiled a series of taxi reforms in August, including the removal of all existing taxi licences.

Many of those licences were purchased for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The reforms include $378 million to assist licence holders, and a $75 million “fairness fund” to provide targeted support to industry participants experiencing immediate financial hardship as a result of the changes.

Ms Spanos said licence holders who attended a government information session about the fairness fund last week were left reeling at the details of how the fund will be administered.

Licence owners have been offered compensation of $100,000 for their first licence and $50,000 for up to three more licences.

“There is no appeal process, nobody has a clear vision, no criteria,” Ms Spanos said. “And they’re asking us what the value of my home is. Really? You want me to sell my house?”

A spokesman for the Victorian Hire Car Association said the group is not participating in the blockade.

Victoria Police has been notified of the protest.

“Victoria Police is aware of the planned blockade of the Bolte Bridge on Monday morning,” a spokesman said. “We are currently in discussions with the organisers and other stakeholder organisations.”

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