WA election: Party’s ‘link’ with taxi industry may bring headache for government

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-03/micro-business-party-denies-taxi-industry-link-despite-campaign/8323912

By Laura Gartry

Updated Fri at 8:59pm

The micro-business party (MBP) insists it has no links with the taxi industry, despite hundreds of taxi drivers around Perth promoting the party.

Taxi drivers have been actively encouraged to display purpose-made car stickers and support the MBP via the Facebook page of lobby group ‘Perth Taxi Group’, which has more than 3,000 followers.

“Promoting Micro Business Party is our only chance to bring the voice of the industry to the WA Parliament,” a post reads.

“PLEASE help us to show the politicians ‘The power of the taxi industry’.”

The Facebook page also shared the MBP how-to-vote card and told followers to vote for the party.

But the party’s candidate for the South Metropolitan region, Cam Tinley, said promoting the cause of taxi drivers is not a priority of the party.

“We have had several meetings and it’s never come up to get money for taxi drivers or reforming the taxi industry, it is just never mentioned,” he said.

“We just help small business. They are a part of that, but it is not our priority.

“I wouldn’t say it is a key platform, but would be something that is perfectly reasonable.”

The Government approved $20,000 in “transition payments” to plate owners and a hardship fund, but the industry repeatedly argued that is insufficient to make up for the sharp decline in plate value and trade since regulatory changes and the arrival of Uber.

Two business groups merged to create MBP

Mr Tinley said he was trying to set up the ‘WA Small Business Party’ for predominantly retailers but merged with another business group to boost numbers.

The combined Micro Business Party was registered a month ago makes no mention of the taxi industry specifically on its website.

“Ensure that any businesses adversely affected by changes in licensing arrangements be fully compensated for any losses suffered,” the tenth policy statement on MBP website reads.

Mr Tinely said the party has a broad focus, and only has six taxi drivers standing for election out of the 46 candidates.

The party has also selected Athan Tsirigotis, a spokesman for the Taxi Operator Legal Defence to run in the seat of Carine.

Despite the widespread support from taxi drivers, Mr Tinley said voting for the MBP is not a vote for “the taxi party” but rather all small businesses impacted by privatisation, retail trading hours and payroll tax.

Other policies include opposing the expansion of poker machines, the introduction of toll roads and lobbying for a better share of the GST for WA.

“Since we set up we’ve got lawyers, accountants, teachers, engineers,” he said.

The MBP is not part of the preference deal organised by “preference whisper” Glenn Druery, so the party is aiming for around three per cent of the primary vote.

Jeff Kennett speaks out

Then there’s the inconsistent way the government treats holders of government licences it wishes to alter or revoke. A commercial fisherman in Port Phillip Bay gets $1.6m when his licence is revoked, but a taxi licence owner who might have paid $500,000 for a licence is being offered $100,000. Where is the social justice? The Andrews Government is happy to pay big business $1b for a ripped up contract, but its treatment of those who own taxi licences is detestable.

There is so much to do

Have a good day.

Jeff Kennett is a former premier of Victoria

Call to means-test state government taxi cab compensation

ANTHONY GALLOWAY, State Political Reporter, Herald Sun

March 7, 2017 4:44pm

FEWER than 2 per cent of taxi licence holders bought their plates at the top of the market, prompting calls for means-testing of the state government’s compensation package.

Figures from the Taxi Services Commission, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, reveal just 1.7 per cent of taxi licenses were bought for more than $500,000.

Cabbies are expected to disrupt traffic on Melbourne’s busiest roads again on Thursday, in protest against government deregulation of the industry and the compensation it has offered drivers.

Taxi drivers have slammed the offer of $100,000 for a first licence, and $50,000 for second, third and fourth licences, saying it doesn’t nearly cover what many paid for them.

But the Herald Sun is able to reveal that:

JUST over 10 per cent of licences — or 325 — were bought for more than $400,000;

ONLY 14 per cent of licence holders in Melbourne actually use their taxis, the rest leasing plates to other operators, and;

ONE operator bought a licence in 2013 for less than $100,000, and so may profit from the compensation.

Over the past year more than 50 licence holders have transferred their licences to someone else for nothing, sparking fears operators are trying to circumvent the four-licence cap for compensation.

Sex Party MP Fiona Patten said the compensation should paid on a case-by-case basis.

Pubic Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the package was designed to “support those that need it most”.

“We’re providing up to $250,000 for the licences owners have invested in, and a $50 million, means-tested Fairness Fund to support those in significant financial hardship as a result of the changes,” Ms Allan said.

Victorian Taxi Association chief Georgia Nicholls opposed “any further overlays or complications”, saying: “Our primary concerns are the splitting of the reforms into two Bills — the second of which we haven’t seen yet — and the levy in its current form.”

Uber spokesman Mike Scott said the compensation — to be paid for by a new $2 levy on fares — needed to be more transparent.

Opposition public transport spokesman David Hodgett said the $2 levy would hurt taxi and ride-sharing operators.

Uber steers drivers away from trouble and authorities

Uber on Friday acknowledged the use of a secret software program to steer drivers away from trouble, including sting operations by local authorities to catch lawbreakers.

In the latest in a streak of damaging news for the ridesharing giant, Uber came forward about its “Greyball” software after a New York Times report which said the program aimed to deceive authorities in markets around the world.

According to an Uber statement, the tool was used in cities where it was not banned from operating, and the main intent was to protect drivers from disruption by competitors using the smartphone application to interfere instead of summon legitimate rides.

“This program denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service,” an Uber spokesperson said in an email reply to an AFP inquiry.

“Whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

Uber said the program was used in locations where drivers feared for their safety, and “rarely” to avoid law enforcement.

The New York Times report, which said Greyball was used in several countries, cited interviews with current and former employees whose names were cloaked.

The report said Greyball was part of a broader program created to reveal people trying to us Uber in “violation of terms of service” and had the blessing of the company’s legal team.

According to the report, the program raised ethical and potential concerns, and had been a closely guarded secret in Uber’s toolbox as it expanded around the world, clashing with regulators and traditional taxi groups.

– ‘Geofences’ –

Data collected about agents of regulatory authorities was used by the software to “Greyball” them, or mark them as city officials, according to the Times.

Greyballed officials trying to use Uber would have rides cancelled and be shown fake versions of the app, complete with maps showing icons of ghost cars appearing to be on the move, the report said.

Tactics used included identifying locations of government offices and then making them off-limits with “geofences” erected in mapping software, according to the Times.

Ways of figuring out which users might be regulators or police included checking whether credit cards used for accounts were linked to governments or police credit unions, the report said.

“Uber clearly lost its moral compass if it ever had one,” entrepreneur and journalist John Battelle said in a Twitter post referring to the Greyball news.

– Adding to Uber woes –

The “Greyball” disclosure comes as accusations of sexism, cutthroat management, and a toxic work environment have Uber trying to pull its image out of a skid as competition revs in the on-demand ride market.

Uber chief Travis Kalanick this week apologized, acknowledging that “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” after a video showed him verbally abusing a driver for the service.

The incident, which circulated on social media, was another hit for the image of the global ridesharing giant, which faces accusations of sexual harassment and a lawsuit contending it misappropriated Google’s self-driving car technology.

In the message to employees later, Kalanick wrote “To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement.”

Uber is one of the largest investor-backed startups with a valuation estimated at $68 billion, and has operations in dozens of countries and hundreds of cities, even as it battles regulators and an established taxi industry.

Kalanick also faced criticism for agreeing to be part of a business advisory panel for President Donald Trump, but then quit the panel amid a campaign by Trump opponents to delete the Uber application.