Friday, 26 October 2018

What to do if a taxi won’t accept your fare

The other day, a weekday (it would have been my mother’s birthday had she still been alive), I was in the centre of the city of Sydney at mid-morning and I needed to get home quickly so I went to Market Street where the taxi rank is located and went to the door of the first cab in it. The driver asked me where I was going and I said it didn’t matter where I was going, he had to take my fare. He would not unlock the door and so I went to the second taxi in the rank and told its driver I wanted to go to Pyrmont. He pointed to the taxi in front and said I had to take that one, but I told him the driver would not take my fare. He still would not open the door, so I went back to the first cab and told him I wanted to go to Pyrmont. He said, “If you tell me I have to take you I will not take you.”

The driver, who had dark skin and spoke English with an accent, still would not open the door, as he was, I thought, waiting for an apology. I went back to the second cab and told the driver of the first cab would not take me, but the second taxi’s driver also refused to open his door. So I crossed the street, hailed a cab that was moving in the carriageway, and got into its passenger seat. Once I had buckled the seatbelt, I told the driver what had just happened and he said that the first driver had been wrong: a NSW taxi cannot refuse a fare based on your destination. I took out my mobile phone and noted down the number of the taxi the driver of which had refused to unlock his door for me, and also noted down the name of the company that operated his cab.

Once I got home, I went to the NSW Taxi Council’s website and lodged a complaint and also lodged one with the taxi company, which was 13 CABS. The taxi company sent me an automated response very quickly, which contained a ticket number. The email told me that someone would review the complaint and get back to me.

Less than an hour after lodging the website complaints, an email arrived from the NSW government telling me that they did not look into complaints about taxi drivers, and told me to talk to the taxi company involved. I phoned the feedback number that is listed on the Transport for NSW website but the operator there told me to contact the relevant taxi company.

After lunch I visited the NSW Ombudsman’s website and read about making complaints there. The web page referred me to NSW Fair Trading and I filled out the form they provide on their website for service complaints, then submitted the form to their server. About thirty minutes after making the submission I received an automated email from them in reference to my complaint telling me that they would try to finalise the complaint within 30 days. The email said that they would contact all parties involved in order to do this.

Late the next afternoon an email arrived from the taxi company thanking me for the information I had sent. It also said that the complaint would be looked into by the company’s driver services team. “We appreciate you taking the time to advise us of this experience, and apologise for the lack of service you have received,” the email went on. There was also a receipt number in the body of the email.

At about 3.45pm five days after the event described at the beginning of this blogpost, I received a phone call from NSW Fair Trading during which I gave more details to the caller, who identified herself as “Kate”, than I had in the website submission I had earlier made to the organisation.  Usually, she told me, a resolution took the form of a refund in cases where a contract had been entered into, but in my case she noted that I had merely asked for appropriate training to be given to the driver. She told me that she would call me back in due course when they had finalised the matter, and said that this would happen within 30 days of the complaint being made. I thanked her and hung up.

Just before midday three days later, Kate called me while I was driving and left a message. I phoned back and spoke with a colleague of hers, who told me that the cab company had lodged my complaint on the driver’s permanent record. She also told me that the company had offered to give me $50 in free cab fares, but I said I wasn’t interested in accepting this gesture of goodwill. She also told me that the case would now be closed. A little later the same day, after I had hung up from that call, Kate called me back and explained that the taxi company had said it would be giving the driver in my case customer training. I asked if the company accepted that the driver had done the wrong thing and she said, “Yes.” She said that it was against the law for drivers to pick fares based on the travel distance, and that the company in question tells its drivers that often the fare turns out to be bigger than at first anticipated.

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