Ever found yourself stranded after a gig with taxi drivers refusing to take your fare? For music loving Sydney-siders things may finally be looking up, with the NSW Government’s recent plan to alter taxi licences to make the city’s late-night transport more efficient by introducing changeovers to break up the bottlenecks that typically occur during the peak hours of the early morning.

But while the amount of taxi licences being issued is set to increase, so is the crackdown on cab drivers who are refusing fares on unfair grounds.

According to The Daily Telegraph, as many as 11 cab drivers were fined over Sydney’s long weekend for turning away patrons who only required them to drive a relatively short distance.

Taxi drivers have the right to refuse passengers if they appear to be a threat or under the influence, but the rising complaints from late-night gig-goers is showing that its becoming an excuse to turn down passengers in the hope of securing a further journey, and a bigger fare. More people on the streets however post show however, fighting for cab spots, leads to greater frustrations.

The introduction of a larger taxi fleet is the first step in addressing Sydney’s late-night problems. Along with the stricter regulations on unfair practice by taxi drivers, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has also recommended more licenses should be issued, increasing the amount of cabs on the road and therefore driving down fares.

Experience shows that if the number of taxis is allowed to grow faster than demand, then quality deteriorates.

IPART chairman Peter Boxall said fares had continued to rise and that service had not improved, “licences are still very expensive to buy or to lease, fares have continued to rise at greater than the rate of inflation, and there’s no evidence passengers are receiving better services,” said Mr. Boxall, adding that; “our preliminary view is that this points to a need for more taxi licences.”

The main argument against the proposal comes from the NSW Taxi Council, with chief executive Peter Ramshaw claiming: “Experience shows that if the number of taxis is allowed to grow faster than demand, then quality deteriorates.”

“For all but perhaps a very few hours per week there are plenty of taxis in Sydney and the number of orange lights on vacant taxis throughout the CBD on any weekday or night stands testament to this fact,” said Mr. Ramshaw.

His comments belie the implementation of more late-night transport option for gig-goers in popular late-night destinations like Kings Cross, George Street and the Rocks were all lacking in late-night transport options, with the increase of taxi licenses due to address issues identified by a Sydney council report – The ‘Future Directions of Sydney at Night – Strategy and Action Plan’.

The contention between the Sydney council’s wishes for more taxis and the cab services’ own worries about the increase of their fleet is just one symptomatic problem in an overall pattern plaguing Sydney’s live music scene, with one hand trying to implement changes to address its late-night CBD, attempting to loosen the noose that the other hand is determined to throw around the city’s live music scene.

The Sydney council’s battle to maintain a cultural voice in the face, by drafting a new cultural policy seeking public input, is struggling against the broader plans of the NSW State Government’s plans to rapidly transform the CBD into a Big Brother police state. Including plans to roll out mandatory ID scanning and sniffer dogs on city streets, and a proposal which includes a 1am lockout, the prohibition of selling certain mixed drinks after 10pm, and a ban on the sale of shots.

Bar owners in Kings Cross have also raised their voices against the Premier’s targeting of smaller venues, and refusal to make public the ‘secret evidence’ he claims validates his actions, while the venue owners claim the liquor licensing crackdown will cost them over $1 million a month in lost revenue.

The proposals are being resisted by pretty much everyone who isn’t in cahoots with Premier Barry O’Farrell, with live music activist John Wardle describing the plans as “actively killing local subculture.”

While the security measures are being introduced to ensure late-night safety and curb street violence, it hurts live music scenes by association . The changes come in response to the street violence that led to the death of teenager Thomas Kelly in a senseless attack in Sydney’s King Cross in July, with the issue of alcohol-related violence becoming a political platform for pokie-lined pub venues and politicians alike.

This morning’s news of a hip hop MC being stabbed in Sydney’s Oxford Street outside of a venue he’d just performed in certainly won’t help matters.

All recent events that have played out against the backdrop of the City of Sydney council attempting to piece together a new Cultural Policy, asking for public input on ways to improve the city’s music scene, with Lord Mayor Clover Moore saying: “It’s so important for the soul of the city… We need to do more.”

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