E-tags in frame as toll dispute hits Sydney Airport

Sydney's taxi drivers are threatening to boycott the nation's busiest airport - Sydney Airport -- over a planned new AU$2-per-trip toll to be collected using electronic tags only just made mandatory across the city's taxi fleet.The new by-laws of the New South Wales Taxi Council -- distributed last week -- requires an e-tag device be fitted on every taxi and that a driver must not drive a taxi without access to an e-tag.

Sydney's taxi drivers are threatening to boycott the nation's busiest airport - Sydney Airport -- over a planned new AU$2-per-trip toll to be collected using electronic tags only just made mandatory across the city's taxi fleet.

The new by-laws of the New South Wales Taxi Council -- distributed last week -- requires an e-tag device be fitted on every taxi and that a driver must not drive a taxi without access to an e-tag. Electronic tolling allows drivers to use roads without slowing or stopping to pay tolls and helps to maintain a steady flow of traffic on an expressway.

An e-tag is a small wireless device installed on the taxi's windscreen. Each e-tag has a unique number stored in its electronic memory that is detected by a scanner mounted on a gantry above the roadway. The tolling computer deducts the toll for that toll zone from the driver's toll account. These toll accounts can be paid by cheque, credit card, Bpay or direct debit. The NSW Taxi Council is currently working with e-tag providers to allow the use of cash for payment of the toll account.

NSW Taxi Council spokesperson Tracy Cain, told ZDNet Australia that they are still waiting to hear the decision from the Ministry of Transport on the airport toll issue. However, she said that if the council's request is not met, they will "not support" the airport toll scheme.

"We are in agreement with all the other criteria except that last point. We particularly do not want it but if we have to, then the criteria have to be met. If not, we will not support this. We just won't go near airports," she said.

The NSW Taxi Council said they would object to the toll charge unless the toll is levied on all ground transport at the airport, a percentage of the toll is spent on additional facilities for taxi drivers such as holding back facilities, toilets, food, and if the toll is passed to passengers as it is with all other tolls around Australia.

"It should be made clear that unless there is such an agreement, the NSW Taxi Council will not allow drivers to be charged for picking up at the airport. We would then take all necessary steps to remind the NSW government and Sydney airport that the taxi industry is critical to basic operations at the airport," said Howard Harrison, chief executive officer, NSW Taxi Council, in a statement.

Cain said there is no specific time frame for the Ministry's decision. However, they expect the decision to be made before the toll is imposed in November.

E-tags will soon become a necessity especially for the harbour tunnel as it becomes an "e-tag only road" from Christmas. The cross-city tunnel will also soon become the city's "first cashless road".

Cain said that although their by-laws require taxis to use e-tags, the networks do not see their role as determining who actually supplies the tag.

She added that supplying the e-tag will be a matter for negotiation between the individual taxi driver and the taxi operator. Taxis without e-tags will not be allowed to operate on the network.

She also clarified that the change in their by-laws to require e-tags to all taxis operating on their networks is not due to complaints that the council received from passengers. Cain said that contrary to reports made by mainstream publications, a lot of the passengers "request" to be picked up by taxis with e-tags because they are faster and cheaper.

"A large percentage of taxi drivers already use e-tags with the obvious customer service benefits. However, changes to the by-laws have been deemed necessary if the taxi industry is to extend e-tags across the fleet," said Harrison said in a statement.

More than half of the 4800 Sydney cabs are now fitted with e-tags. It is anticipated that the roll out of the e-tags will be completed before Christmas period.

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