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Bolte Bridge taxi protest to cause traffic chaos

LATEST: PARAMEDICS have been called in after a protester became ill as hundreds of taxi drivers marched to Premier Daniel Andrews’ office following a blockade of the Bolte Bridge.

Tensions boiled over as cabbies walked to Spring St to Treasury Place and called for Premier Daniel Andrews to show himself.

The crowd screamed “shame Daniel Andrews, shame” and pushed forward as dozens of police officers lined the entrance to the building.

Paramedics arrived at the scene shortly before midday as one elderly protester complained of chest pains and was transported to hospital by ambulance.

Protest leaders earlier told the crowd: “We blocked the freeway with only 5 per cent of the taxis this morning — next week it’s 10 per cent” and said they have plans to disrupt taxi service at the airport.

media_cameraTaxi drivers gather on the steps of State Parliament demanding a fair go. Picture: Nicole Garmston
media_cameraA paramedic examines at protester outside the Premier’s office. Picture: Nicole Garmston
media_cameraCabbies are protesting deregulation of the industry. Picture: Tim Carrafa
media_cameraHundreds of drivers were involved in today’s blockade. Picture: Tim Carrafa
media_cameraTaxis blockade the Bolte Bridge earlier this morning. Picture: Nicole Garmston

Some members of the rally have said they are planning to stay outside the government offices all day.

Others have begun to disperse as officials told drivers if their cabs were parked illegally in the city they would be towed.

Trams along Elizabeth St, Williams St and Bourke St have suffered major delays as traffic congestion from the protest moved into the city.

Protesters chanted “Buy back, buy fair” in response to the Government’s plan to deregulate the industry.

During the Bolte Bridge protest traffic in both directions slowed to almost a stand still from shortly after 8am this morning as hundreds of taxis and hire cars drove in convoy along the bridge.

Highway patrol directed traffic along the route, leaving one lane open to motorists to pass by the slow moving procession of cabs.

Angry motorists tooted and yelled out their windows at the protesters as they passed, frustrated at the massive delays.

media_cameraAngry motorists tooted and yelled out their windows at the protesters as they passed. Picture: Nicole Garmston
media_cameraTaxis arrive at Parliament House. Picture: Tim Carrafa
media_cameraProtesters are chanting “Buy back, buy fair” in response to the Government’s plan to deregulate the industry. Picture: Tim Carrafa

Taxi driver of more than 30 years, Resham Sekhon, said the Government was stripping him of his assets and he faces crippling debt of more than $380,000.

“I will have to sell my house, I will be homeless,” he said.

“I’m a hard worker. I have worked 20 years without a holiday. I had planned to retire but I’ve got no hope of that now,” Mr Sekhon said.

Mr Sekhon owns two taxi licences, which he said he paid more than $550,000 for but are now “worthless.”

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy criticised the Andrews Government for not providing certainty to taxi drivers.

“We’ve got protests in the streets today from angry cabbies who were told 18 months ago by Jacinta Allan and Daniel Andrews that this Uber-taxi issue would be solved,” Mr Guy said.

“It’s been all talk and no action.”

He said the taxi industry wanted to receive $250,000 in compensation for each metropolitan cab licence and that should have been the “starting point” for negotiations with the government.

media_cameraCabbie Resham Sekhon says he will have to sell his home. Picture: Nicole Garmston
media_cameraTaxi drivers have brought the Bolte Bridge to a standstill. Outbound on the Bolte Bridge as seen from the Eureka Skydeck. Picture: Hamish Blair

Prior to the protest organiser Linda De Melis said Transport Minister Jacinta Allan’s office had been “in a frenzy” trying to prevent the protest from going ahead.

“They have been begging us to call off the blockade but until they agree to meet with us there seems to be no point,” she said.

Ms De Melis said she acknowledged that today’s protest would clearly disrupt a lot of people but had given motorists ample warning to avoid the area.

“This is what we have to do to call out the government theft that is taking place with licence owners,” she said.

Licence holders are angry about plans to deregulate their industry, effectively scrapping licence fees in an effort to boost competition and allow other operators, such as Uber, to run legally.

They have labelled the government’s licence buyback offer inadequate.

Ms De Melis, who says her father has been a taxi licence owner for over 50 years says the government has “steam rolled” the taxi association.

“We’ve been dismissed. Minister Allan won’t talk to us, Daniel Andrews won’t talk to us,” she said.

“We’re at breaking point.”

media_cameraTaxi drivers congregate near the entrance ramp to the Bolte Bridge before the protest. Picture: Nicole Garmston
media_cameraTaxis are gathering at the Todd Road service station before they blockade the Bolte Bridge.

Transport Minister Jacinta Allan told 3AW this morning the protest was “reckless and irresponsible.”

“Victoria Police are aware of this and will no doubt make their own decisions about how they respond but the bottom line is this is just reckless and irresponsible behaviour. It’s only going to hurt passengers,” Ms Allan sad.

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