Bad cabbies exposed: 'fraud, rip-offs, assaults'

A handful of Illawarra taxi drivers are overcharging, falsely claiming government travel subsidies, verbally insulting women and assaulting passengers and other drivers, according to a whistleblower.

The whistleblower, who is a driver with Wollongong Radio Cabs but wished to remain anonymous, claimed this behaviour keeps happening because the co-operative doesn't hand out substantial punishments.

"There's the ones that are doing serious stuff like overcharging, maybe acting inappropriately towards clients, ripping people off, that'd be a very small percentage," the driver said.

"There's 500-odd drivers in Wollongong, there's probably five or six of them doing that sort of stuff all the time. And there's probably a few others who do that sort of thing if they think they can get away with it.

"The rest of them, all they want to do is get out there and earn a quid taking people home."

According to the whistleblower, some drivers overcharge passengers by using an indirect route to their destination.

Another method employed, they claimed, was to change the tariff rate.

There are six different tariff rates, including one tariff for weekdays between 6am and 10pm and another higher rate for Friday and Saturday from 10pm.

The driver said some cabbies can select a different tariff and charge more for the trip.

"If you've got someone who's not quite with it, who's drunk, you can whack it up and you'll get some extra dollars for that trip," they said.

"If people get in the car and they're hammered, they wouldn't know.

"I hate people getting ripped off. It annoys the crap out of me when people get in the taxi and complain about it."

The whistleblower alleged one driver was caught overcharging a disabled woman by more than $100 on a trip to Sydney.

"He got caught doing that," the driver said.

"The carer of the person he took saw the bill and complained. The guy's still driving taxis.

"The guy shouldn't be driving taxis but he keeps getting away with it, so he keeps doing it."

He claimed a driver was allegedly caught falsely claiming government departmental travel subsidies on days he didn't transport the person entitled to them.

The driver was taken off that job but is still driving a taxi, he said.

The whistleblower said, at times, those drivers who have a relationship with someone at the base can gain an unfair advantage, either through access to pre-booked jobs or being sent jobs directly.

In one instance, the whistleblower said someone at the base would text a driver the jobs rather than send them out over the dispatch system.

Some drivers have been known to assault other drivers over fares, and even passengers over unpaid fares, the whistleblower said.

"That does happen," he said.

"There are some drivers out there who just go off. If the fare is $52 and the passenger has only got $50, they'll go off their head for $2."

The whistleblower suggested there was a driver still working in the southern suburbs of the Illawarra who has been the subject of numerous complaints from women.

He said the complaints related to saying inappropriate things, like asking a pregnant woman "do you know who the father is?", and added there were people who would refuse to get into his cab.

The whistleblower said the way Wollongong Radio Cabs deals with these issues is known as "cuckoo court".

"That's where they get the directors - five or six of them - and two drivers with the grievance and then they'll hear both sides of the story and then they'll make a decision," he said.

"They fine one, or fine neither. If you put some of them in, they know they're not going to get fined."

The whistleblower first made his complaints via a website called The Ranks, written by UOW journalism student Eliza Murdoch.

He decided to speak out because he'd had enough - "what I can see going on, it just drives you nuts".

But he doesn't have any intention of giving up being a taxi driver.

"I love driving, I love driving taxis," he said.

"And it's the only thing I can do. Before I started driving taxis, I couldn't get a job.

"But it's not a bad life and most of the customers are pretty good. Some of the drivers are nice guys, there's a good camaraderie there."

The NSW Taxi Council was supplied with a copy of the allegations made by the whistleblower, but said it wasn't aware of them.

"The NSW Taxi Council will, however, refer these matters to the appropriate authority, namely the NSW Roads and Maritime Services," a taxi council spokesman said.

"Whilst the specifics of these allegations will be addressed through any investigative process, the NSW Taxi Council can advise that Wollongong Radio Cabs has proper bylaws which governs the conduct of members and drivers, including monitoring drivers' performance closely and what appropriate action is to be taken should there be a breach of these laws.

"Wollongong Radio Cabs has also invested significantly in a new dispatch system which has resulted in more advanced booking systems and better efficiency in dispatching work to taxis.

"The NSW Taxi Council works closely with all member networks to help ensure proper governance and management procedures and will continue to do so accordingly."

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