Taxi drivers fined for refusing short fares from Melbourne Airport

Dozens of taxi drivers have been fined in a police sting for refusing to take short fares from Melbourne Airport.

Plain-clothes Fawkner Highway Patrol officers posing as passengers issued the $396 fines on Friday after receiving dozens of complaints.

One taxi driver was also picked up for driving while suspended, the post on the Hume Police Service Area Facebook page revealed.

One leading constable who was part of the operation told Fairfax Media that residents in nearby suburbs such as Gladstone Park and Westmeadows were “struggling” to get taxis home from the airport.

The officer said this was the second sting of its kind in a month and was a highly technical operation involving airport security and Australian Federal Police officers.

Officers posed as passengers travelling to nearby suburbs and when drivers refused the fare, they were issued the $396 fine.

Once hailed, a driver cannot refuse a fare that is too short or inconvenient, according to the Victorian Taxis Services Commission.

“It is absolutely illegal,” said the officer.

“They cannot knock you back. It’s known as refusing a taxi fare on rank. It’s a $396 fine on the spot.”

The sting was carried out by plain-clothes officers because news of the operation “spread really quickly” throughout the taxi holding bay.

One taxi driver was also fined for offensive behaviour after he became aggressive to a police officer.

“One of the cabbies refused a fare to one of my workmates. [The officer] identified what we were doing and he completely flipped.

“He punched his steering wheel and swore in front of kids so we gave him another fine.”

Tours operating illegally without driver accreditation or insurance were also issued fines by police for preying on domestic and international visitors.

“If you’ve come from somewhere like Brisbane they’ll eyeball you and say ‘Taxi? $65 to city’,” the officer said.

“It’s highly illegal. They’ve got no insurance and no driver certificate. They were hanging around like flies.”

The post has been liked more than 7000 times. Many Melburnians have responded to the post, detailing times when they have been refused a short trip from the airport.

Some users confessed they had resorted to lying about their suburb, before changing the destination once in the taxi, in order to procure a lift home.

But taxi drivers said short fares were not viable after queuing for up to two hours in Melbourne Airport’s taxi holding yard.

“A 2+ hour wait for $7 is NOT making a profit,” wrote one retired cab driver on Facebook.

A short-fare model – which saw drivers who accepted short fares allowed to jump the long queue at the airport rank on their return – was scrapped in 2013 after evidence it was being rorted by some drivers.

A Melbourne Airport survey at the time found that while just 2 per cent of taxi trips were to suburbs within the short-fare zone, 12 per cent of drivers were heading straight to the rank rather than to the taxi holding yard.

Police said the response to Friday’s operation was “quite extraordinary” and they intended to conduct more crackdowns.