News : Australia Day Demand Catches Taxi Companies by Surprise
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Jan 28, 2015 -- Cab companies were swamped with calls and ride-sharing app Uber almost tripled its prices when Australia Day revellers all suddenly tried to get home at what appeared to be the same time on Monday night.
Many calls from mobile phones to both Black and White Cabs and Yellow Cabs Queensland returned only an engaged signal as people around Brisbane tried to order a taxi.
Yellow Cabs Queensland general manager Bill Barker admitted on Tuesday his company was caught napping when the phone suddenly started ringing off the hook.
He said after a much slower-than-average day, requests for taxis to his company alone went from about 200 an hour to 1200 an hour shortly after 7pm.
"It appears we were understaffed with this," he said.
"We were caught napping because it was a public holiday on a Monday."
According to Yellow Cabs figures, demand eventually peaked at 1340 calls an hour.
On a busy Friday or Saturday night the company expects about 1200 to 1500 calls an hour and it says it can cater for as many as 2200 with a full call centre.
But on a public holiday staff levels are much lower and the call centre couldn't cope with the sudden demand, which lasted from about 7.15pm to 9.45pm.
"Normally we have about 40 [operators]," Mr Barker said.
"On a night like last night we would have been down to 15 or 20.
"It was a below average day all day until we got that peak so that could have been poor planning on our part."
Popular, but possibly illegal, ride-sharing service Uber was also hit with five times more requests than an average Sunday or Monday. The demand meant its surge price leapt to 2.8 times the normal fare or more at certain times.
For example a ride from Paddington to Hendra, which would normally cost $22 to $29 skyrocketed to between $61 and $81.
Mr Barker accused the service of price gouging and repeated the common cry from the taxi industry to level the playing field by forcing Uber to comply with the same restrictions as taxi providers.
However Uber Queensland general manager Mike Abbott said fares increased during high demand to encourage more drivers to get on the road.
"As soon demand falls or supply increases sufficiently, prices quickly go back to normal," he said in a statement.
Yellow Cabs figures show demand for cabs surged on Australia Day in previous years, but it happened at different times.
One possible explanation for the timing of the high demand on Monday was Triple J's Hottest 100 countdown ended shortly after 7pm, a time when many people were also thinking about going home to prepare for work the following day.
There were 39 official Hottest 100 parties registered at pubs and clubs in Brisbane, plus countless more backyard barbecues where the countdown formed a backdrop.
Monday was also the first Australia Day since 2012 when most people had to work the next day.
Mr Barker said his company had learned its lesson about Australia Day staffing and would take a different approach in 2016.
He apologised to anyone who was inconvenienced by the delays and urged people to download the Black and White Cabs app for quicker bookings.
Black and White Cabs has been contacted for comment.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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