V/Line spending big on rail replacement taxis

When trains aren’t running V/Line passengers are used to being packed onboard replacement buses, but there is an even more expensive mode of substitute transport that V/Line makes regular use of – taxis!

13CABS maxi taxi departs the Arts Centre as a Frankston line 'DDA approved train replacement bus'

I first became aware of it years ago when a mate who uses a mobility scooter tried to travel to Seymour on a weekend when rail replacement buses were running, but no accessible road coaches were available. Result – V/Line called up a maxi taxi to take him there, the finaly fare coming to around $200!

Every V/Line service from Southern Cross except for Seymour and Gippsland replaced by buses

Some more examples

During V/Line’s 2016 VLocity fleet crisis taxis were called up when accessible road coaches were unavailable.

On Wednesday, V/Line paid $350 dollars for Gary Mitchell to get from Traralgon to Melbourne after the coach he attempted to get on did not have wheelchair access.

In 2017 a V/Line train to Warrnambool was diverted via Werribee, leaving behind passengers on the usual route, who had to complete their journey by taxi.

Two V/Line passengers were transported from Geelong to Terang and Warrnambool by taxi on Monday night at a cost of $365 to the rail operator.

The passengers were attempting to board the 7.05pm service from Southern Cross at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, but were left behind as the train didn’t stop at those stations.

After some confusion and a considerable wait, the passengers were advised to catch a later service to Geelong.

The Warrnambool-bound passengers were then transported from Geelong to Terang and Warrnambool in a taxi paid for by V/Line, arriving just before midnight.

On New Years Eve 2019 V/Line ran out of rail replacement buses and had to call for a cab.

Taxis were needed to ferry stranded commuters home to Geelong after V/Line ran out of buses at Southern Cross Station on New Year’s Day.

About 100 people were left languishing in the bus terminal in the early hours of Monday morning after buses to Geelong and Ballarat quickly filled up.

It forked out money for 12 taxis to transport stranded commuters on the Geelong and Ballarat lines, but a V/Line spokeswoman said she did not know how much was spent.

Services on the Albury line are chronically unreliable – as well as inaccessible to many.

Two north-east Victorian residents have claimed V/Line regularly pays more than $1,000 for return taxi trips to Melbourne due to train and coach services being wheelchair inaccessible.

Albury-based Luke Sefton said V/Line had recently arranged a taxi for at least three return trips to Melbourne.

“If there’s more than two wheelchairs they tell you the train’s full and you can’t get a ticket. If it’s not running you’ve got to get a taxi and they pay the money for that — maybe $700 or more, one way,” he said.

But Mr Sefton said V/Line would sometimes turn him away.

“I’ve called up a few times and there’s only two [people with wheelchairs] allowed on there and they say ‘we’ve sold out today’,” he said.

“In that case they don’t get you a taxi either, they just say they’ve sold out.”

The chair of The Victorian Disability Advisory Council, Colleen Furlanetto, said she had used replacement taxi services from Euroa and Seymour more than a dozen times at a cost to V/Line of around $300 each way.

Ms Furlanetto said she felt guilty depriving local residents of a wheelchair accessible service whenever V/Line arranged a taxi for her to Melbourne.

V/Line has used taxis to replace a broken down rail replacement coach.

V/Line has forked out around $750 for a maxi-taxi to ferry passengers to Melbourne after two breakdowns on regional train service left passengers fuming.

The saga for passengers began when a V/Line train bound for Melbourne from Albury broke down at Chiltern in the state’s north east on Sunday.

Passengers were then moved to a replacement coach service which also broke down.

Two maxi taxis were called to replace the coach.

Chiltern resident Sheridan Williams said passengers were stranded on the coach for up to 20 minutes before they were told what had happened.

Ms Williams said the taxis arrived from Wangaratta to take the passengers to Melbourne. She said the meter showed $750 when it arrived in Melbourne at 11:45pm — two hours late.

It is not known what the fare was on the second taxi.

But this tale from the Warrnambool line really takes the cake.

In May 2019 Janet and Susan, who use wheelchairs, decided to travel from Melbourne to Warrnambool on V/Line trains.

For both it was a work-related visit, they were attending a forum hosted by All Abilities Advocacy and supported by Warrnambool City Council’s Rural Access program.

Janet, after first checking with V/Line, booked a first class ticket in order to sit next to colleagues. On May 14 when she arrived at the Southern Cross platform she was advised she could not sit next to her colleagues and was segregated.

On the way to Warrnambool she received a call from V/Line advising that the return booking was not an accessible service and she was requested to use an earlier train. This was not possible because Susan would still be at the forum.

On May 15, at 12.30pm, both women were contacted by V/Line and informed that the accessible carriage was not available. They had no alternative means of returning home to Melbourne.

V/Line asked Susan if she could leave her wheelchair in the conductor’s area and sit down, which she had been required to do on the trip to Warrnambool. Susan said this did not work properly and she needed her wheelchair with her.

V/Line advised Janet and Susan they return to Melbourne in separate taxis with the bill of about $1200 to be covered by taxpayers.

At 5pm Janet and Susan arrived at the Warrnambool Station to catch the taxis back to Melbourne.

They then discovered the disabled toilet at Warrnambool Railway Station was not accessible. The toilet was behind swinging doors and at the end of two cubicles for ambulatory people. The room was narrow with insufficient space for a wheelchair to turn into the “accessible” cubicle.

When the taxi arrived, V/Line initially wanted Janet and Susan to share a ride home – impossible given the size of their two wheelchairs. With the insistence of a support person V/Line eventually called a second taxi.

So how much is being spent on replacement taxis?

Back in 2006 Shadow Minister for Transport Terry Mulder inquired in question time about V/Line’s usage of rail replacement taxis on the Warrnambool line.

920. Mr MULDER to ask the Minister for Transport with reference to taxis used to transport excess passengers on the 5.15 pm Geelong to Warrnambool road coach on Sunday 16 October 2005 —

(1) Were four taxis used to transport the excess passengers; if not, how many taxis were requisitioned.
(2) What was the final destination of each taxi.
(3) What was the cost of each taxi.
(4) How many passengers did each taxi transport and to where.
(5) Was there any attempt made to secure a second coach and driver to run part of the way such as to Birregurra or Colac; if not, why.
(6) Does V/Line assess the respective costs of rail replacement taxis versus coaches for particular unscheduled journeys and the relative availability and time taken to secure either mode.
(7) Would a coach have been cheaper than four taxis.
(8) What would be the likely cost of a replacement coach between —
(a) Geelong and Birregurra;
(b) Geelong and Colac.

ANSWER:
As at the date the question was raised, the answer is:

(1) No, three taxis were used.
(2) One taxi went to Birregurra and two taxis to Colac.
(3) The Birregurra taxi fare cost $90 and the Colac taxi fares cost $130 each.
(4) The Birregurra taxi carried four passengers and the two Colac taxis carried five and four passengers respectively.
(5) No, as it would have delayed passengers for up to a further hour waiting for the coach.
(6) Yes.
(7) In this case no.
(8) The coach would have travelled through to Colac at a cost of $400.

As well as the wider usage of taxis by V/Line.

922. Mr MULDER to ask the Minister for Transport with reference to rail or coach services that were full or partly replaced or augmented by taxis in September 2005 —

(1) On what dates were taxis used to convey V/Line passengers.

(2) What rail or coach services were fully or partly replaced or augmented by taxis.

(3) Between what stations or locations were passengers conveyed by taxi.

(4) Was each service partly replaced or augmented due to —
(a) locomotive breakdown;
(b) ‘Sprinter’ railcar breakdown;
(c) locomotive-hauled carriage breakdown such as an airconditioning fault;
(d) accidents;
(e) signalling faults;
(f) unscheduled track repairs;
(g) breakdown of a Connex train;
(h) breakdown of a Pacific National train;
(i) overbooking of a booked seat V/Line service;
(j) excess number of passengers arriving to travel on an unbooked rail or coach service;
(k) other unavailability of locomotives, ‘Sprinters’ or locomotive-hauled carriages.

ANSWER:
As at the date the question was raised, the answer is:

(1) September 1,2,3,4,7,10,13,14,15,17,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,30.

(2) V/Line was unable to identify the fully or partly replaced or augmented rail and coach services from the taxi dockets.

(3) Melton–Newport; Ballarat–Melbourne; Bendigo–Castlemaine; Anderson–Cowes; Broadmeadows–Tullamarine; Bendigo–Sunbury; Warrnambool–Casterton; Bega–Cooma; Swan Hill–Bendigo; Shepparton–Cobram; Geelong–Barwon Heads; Bendigo–Echuca; Geelong–Torquay; Melbourne–Seymour; Lara–South Geelong; Werribee–Geelong; Ballarat–Beaufort; Shepparton–Melbourne; Ballarat–Daylesford; Woodend–Daylesford; Camperdown–Warrnambool; Ballarat; Beaufort; Geelong–Anglesea; Ararat–Hamilton; Wangaratta–Chiltern; Warrnambool–Port Fairy; Sunshine–Sunbury; Footscray–Geelong; Werribee–Geelong; Ararat–Hamilton; Bendigo Kerang; Morwell–Traralgon; Ballarat–St Arnaud; Footscray–South Geelong; Lara–South Geelong; Lara–Newport; Lara–Geelong; South Geelong–Geelong; Traralgon–Caulfield; Ballarat–Creswick.

(4)
(a) In part
(b) No.
(c) No.
(d) In part.
(e) In part.
(f) No.
(g) No.
(h) No.
(i) No.
(j) In part.
(k) No.

And the most expensive fares.

923. Mr MULDER to ask the Minister for Transport —

(1) What was the highest individual bill in September 2005, between what locations the taxi travel and on what date did the journey occur for the use of a taxi to convey —
(a) V/Line passengers;
(b) V/Line train drivers;
(c) other V/Line staff.

(2) How much was spent on taxis conveying V/Line train drivers in September 2005 between —
(a) Sunbury and Bendigo;
(b) Spencer Street and Bendigo.

(3) Does V/Line pay a standard per kilometre rate for every taxi hire, the same as any member of the public, or does it contract with taxi operators at a lower rate per kilometre; if not the latter, why not.

ANSWER:
As at the date the question was raised, the answer is:

(1)
(a) V/Line passengers–Spencer Street to Albury, $408.18.
(b) V/Line train drivers–Warragul to Melbourne, $161.82.
(c) V/Line staff–Airport to Carrum, $78.55.

(2) No amount was spent on taxis for driver travel between Sunbury and Bendigo or Spencer Street and Bendigo during September 2005.

(3) V/Line pays the metered fare rate for every taxi hire, the same as any member of the public. The reason V/Line does not have a contract with taxi operators at a lower rate is due to the number of taxi companies used throughout the State.

As for more recent figures, someone identified as ‘BC8’ lodged a freedom of information request with V/Line for:

A document listing the cost of all incidents where V/Line has paid for a train replacement Taxi, including the date, line, station and cost, in date order from [date] to the date of this request.

A document listing the cost of all unplanned or unscheduled incidents where V/Line has paid for a train replacement bus, including the date, line, station and cost, in date order from [date] to the date of this request.

A document listing all planned station or line closures where V/Line has utilised replacement transport.

V/Line identified three documents falling within the terms of the request; granting access to two of them and refusing access to a third, resulting in a request being made to the Information Commissioner to have the decision reviewed. They found:

The document subject to review was a spreadsheet listing types of incidents and total costs incurred by the Agency in paying for train replacement taxis

V/Line claiming.

… [the data set] is incomplete as regional stations also provide taxi vouchers directly to customers. This data is not always captured …

As well as a much more interesting reason.

V/Line is currently in the process of releasing a Request For Proposal to selected vendors in the Commercial Passenger Vehicle space (including taxis) and release of this data may corrupt the tender process.

However the Information Commissioner found that the document was not exempt from access, and so should be released.

I wonder who submitted the FOI request, and how long until V/Line puts into place a cost effective method of hiring replacement taxis.

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2 Responses to “V/Line spending big on rail replacement taxis”

  1. Beren says:

    I think public transport entitlement is one of the biggest issues facing humanity. You see people posting videos on YouTube demanding bus services with no timetable and less then 10 minute intervals. Turn up and go. Trains can end up with less then 100 people on board, but still be running every 10 minutes just to carry some entitled asshole.

  2. P says:

    Moving onto the next logical step, was the FOI request published? Some agencies have a disclosure log where you can view FOI requests others have submitted. Eg Vicroads for a while. https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/about-vicroads/corporate-responsibility/freedom-of-information/disclosure-logs

    Whereas other organisations in the transport portfolio appear to describe how to make an FOI request but don’t appear to publish a disclosure log. Eg

    https://corporate.vline.com.au/About-V-Line/Freedom-of-Information

    https://transport.vic.gov.au/about/governance/reporting#FOI

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