Darwin taxi drivers earning so little they’re ‘eligible for Centrelink’ as Uber, struggling economy take a toll
Taxi driver Shane Nouwens says some of his colleagues are only earning $50-$80 per shift. (ABC News: Mitchell Abrams)
A taxi driver says many of his colleagues are now eligible for Centrelink payments because the industry is struggling to compete in Darwin’s troubled economy.
- Darwin taxi drivers have seen a 30 per cent income reduction during peak times
- Some are reported to be taking extra jobs to make ends meet
- The Attorney-General would not say if she would consider any form of compensation for drivers
Shane Nouwens has been driving taxis in Darwin on and off for 19 years and said the welfare of his fellow drivers was starting to cause him concern.
“They are averaging around $50 to $80 a shift … we’re talking about 12-hour shifts here,” he said.
Earnings have dropped so low, he said some drivers were now eligible for Centrelink payments to help them get by.
“They’re earning well below minimum wage, in fact half,” Mr Nouwens said.
‘A double-barrel whammy’
Australian Taxi Council chief executive Blair Davies said the introduction of Uber last year was one of the biggest factors in the taxi industry’s troubles.
“The Uber drivers cherry-pick all of the good work, that means that taxis get left with the rest. They’ve got to soldier on,” he said.
Mr Nouwens said the pressure from Uber was continuing to grow.
“In the first couple of weeks it was a 25 per cent reduction to drivers’ incomes during peak times — Thursday and Friday, and Friday and Saturday nights,” he said.
“We’re now in the range of 30 per cent-plus reductions to income on those peak periods.
“Ridesharing has stripped away the last skerrick of viability for this industry.”
Seasonal and economic pressures on Darwin have also played a part.
“It’s going to get really tough when the tourists aren’t there, and when the local economy’s in the doldrums taxi drivers’ incomes tend to reflect that,” Mr Davies said.
In a statement, ridesharing company Uber claimed it had “complemented existing transport options” since it launched in August last year,
“While we all know Darwin is a great place to live, it isn’t always easy to get around without driving,” a spokesperson said.
“What we have seen is Uber complementing existing transport options in Darwin, offering locals and tourists an affordable way to get from A to B.
“It has also meant more transport options on weekends and during major events, enabling locals to get home safely at the end of the night, and making the roads safer for everyone.”
The Australian Taxi Council said seasonal and economic pressures on Darwin were also affecting drivers. (ABC News: Mitchell Abram)
No shame in getting help
Although Mr Nouwens only drives taxis part time these days, as he cares for his wife, he said some of his fellow drivers were looking for alternative employment to make ends meet.
“Some have gone off and tried to work at Woolies, but there’s not a lot of jobs because the economy is depressed,” he said.
“Some have tried to be truck drivers; there’s a glut of truck drivers after the windup of INPEX.”
But in a post to a Darwin taxi community page, Mr Nouwens urged drivers to get help if they needed it.
“There is no shame in taking steps to ensure the welfare of you and your family,” he said.
“If you are suffering significant stress please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a chat over a coffee and direction to the relevant health services.”
Shane Nouwens is urging his fellow taxi drivers to seek help if they are struggling. (ABC News: Mitchell Abram)
Mr Davies blamed the Northern Territory Government for much of the economic damage done to the taxi industry and said it should be stepping up to make taxis more competitive.
“Our competitors can discount their prices when it’s convenient for them, and they can ratchet them up to astronomical levels. Taxis can’t do that,” he said.
Mr Nouwens said taxis faced a $700 fine for turning off their meters, even if they wanted to offer a discount to passengers.
He also asked the Government to consider dropping a levy on taxi fares that was introduced when Uber launched in Darwin.
“That has been noticed by our customers because it has increased our flag fall to $5.40 during the day and $6.50 at night,” he said.
But Attorney-General Natasha Fyles would not say whether the Government would consider the changes, or other forms of compensation for drivers.
“We need to make sure that we support the industry through regulations, but at the same time acknowledge the changes, that Territorians are using those types of services.”
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