Taxi drivers threaten to continue blockade

Taxi drivers protest at Melbourne airport

RAW VISION: Melbourne taxi drivers protest outside Tullamarine airport demanding that the short-fare queue for drivers be reinstated by management.

Protesting taxi drivers say they will blockade Melbourne Airport until management reintroduces a short-fare system.

Evening-shift drivers were expected to join the 60 day-shift drivers at the protest at about 6.30pm and to stay overnight.

Drivers on Tuesday said they intended to block the taxi queue – known as the "snake pit" because of the way it snakes around – until a short-fare system  is reintroduced to the Melbourne Airport.

Customers 'worse off' if cab licences lose value

Two big issues plague the taxi industry, as drivers picket Melbourne Airport over short fares, and TaxiLink founder Harry Katsiabanis hits ABC radio saying services will suffer if licences lose their value.

Drivers say discussions between them, the airport and the Victorian Taxi Association over the short-fare queue system had stalled.

Driver representative Abdul Majid said the blockade would remain every day until their demand for a short-fare system was met. The last system was axed in April.

Drivers say they are now forced to wait hours in the airport long queue. If, by bad luck, they draw a fare  to a nearby suburb drivers say they can end up earning just $7.50 in three hours.

"We are staying here until this is resolved," Mr Majid said.

"We have given them a month to fix this and they (airport management) are not caring about us."

Drivers say short-fare queues operate at Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane airports.

Drivers who bypassed the picket were not charged a $2 fee for joining the taxi queue on Tuesday morning.

Protesting driver representative Nazar Yousef said the move would cost the airport $16,000 a day in lost revenue and encouraged all drivers who were not part of the protest to bypass the Melrose Drive holding bay, and not pay the fee.

But by  noon, Melbourne Airport was again charging drivers the fee and only drivers with an airport-issue card, who had paid the fee, were  allowed to join the taxi rank.

Drivers normally recoup 68 cents of the fee through a surcharge to passengers.

Melbourne Airport spokeswoman Anna Gillett said the $2 taxi fee had been reintroduced.

"Drivers were able to go through the normal process so we could keep taxis operating at the airport," Ms Gillett said.

She said protesting driver minority had caused significant disruption at the airport.

Driver Manpreet Kharoud said if the airport could introduce a card system to bypass the picket it could find a short-fare solution.

Ms Gillett said the airport had tried several short-fare systems including cards and tokens but some drivers had abused each attempt.

"None of them have proved rort-resistant," Ms Gillett said.

Skybus put on extra services to meet the passenger demand, she said.

Wayne Sievers was dropping a friend at the airport when he encountered the blockade.

"The blockade caused massive traffic chaos in and around the side access roads, such as the roundabout near the Australian Customs Service building," he said.

"This took 30 minutes to 40 minutes to get through, and very nearly resulted in my friend missing her flight.

"We were both very angry and think something has to be done to stop taxi drivers from holding the travelling public hostage."

This is the second blockade after one in May over the same issue.

Taxi licence holders are disgruntled too after a state government taxi industry review.

Harry Katsiabanis, from private cab company Taxi Link, said taxi licences — until recently worth $525,000 — were now being given a nil value by banks.

"We alerted the Government to it and the inquiry but obviously no-one has listened," Mr Katsiabanis said.

He said many taxi drivers had mortgaged their homes to pay for the licence.

With Stephen Cauchi