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Investment of Commonwealth and state funds in public passenger transport

CHAIR —Welcome. Would you like to make an opening statement before we move to questions? Perhaps you could tell us what you do.

Mr Piantoni —Basically, we run a small operation of 13-seater commuter buses. We service the public as well as government departments and schools. We also have inner-city transportation that is quite cheap to help all the elderly people get around and sightsee when they are here on holidays. We also do charters and tourist runs to various parks and things like that. It is pretty well a 24 hour a day, seven day a week operation. It keeps us pretty busy.

Senator O’BRIEN —I believe that your service fills a very important role here in Darwin. Is it only a Darwin operation?

Mr Piantoni —Yes.

Senator O’BRIEN —Do you have a rough idea of how many passengers a year your service would carry?

Mr Piantoni —We do around 240 jobs a day. Those jobs range from one person to 13 people at a time, so on average I would imagine that we would do maybe a couple of hundred thousand people a year.

Senator O’BRIEN —Are you a taxi service or is it a scheduled route service?

Mr Piantoni —We are more like a taxi service. We do not actually have any scheduled route services, so we are more like a taxi service, but we multi-hire, which brings the price down for the customers. A lot of our work is like that. We also do, as I say, charter work, school transfers and airport transfers for different companies and people.

Senator O’BRIEN —Are you regulated? Does the Territory government regulate your operation in anyway?

Mr Piantoni —No, not really.

Senator O’BRIEN —I presume you have to be licensed in some way to be a transport operator.

Mr Piantoni —Yes.

Senator O’BRIEN —But they do not tell you the sphere in which you can operate or anything?

Mr Piantoni —No, not really. There is no stipulation on that. We can operate anywhere. We do service places in Katherine, Jabiru and Daly River. They just ring up and make a booking either 48 hours prior or the day before and we drive out there and accommodate their needs.

Senator O’BRIEN —So it is like a maxi taxi operation, as it would be called in other parts of Australia?

Mr Piantoni —That is right.

Senator O’BRIEN —Is it a flag fall operation or a fixed fee operation?

Mr Piantoni —It is a fixed fee operation, so everybody knows what they will pay before they step into the vehicle. Ninety-five per cent of our customers get quotes before we carry them around. Basically, we have no flag fall or anything like that; it is straight A to B at a set price. It does not matter if there is one person or 13 people in the bus.

Senator O’BRIEN —Is it a mix of tourists and locals who use your operation?

Mr Piantoni —That is correct, and also large businesses.

Senator O’BRIEN —Do you have any special connection with the Territory tourism body?

Mr Piantoni —No, we do not.

Senator O’BRIEN —Is there some general way your product is sold through hotels or motels?

Mr Piantoni —Basically, all the hotels and motels have been using Metro for quite a while. They just ring us up when they need transfers done and make bookings and we are there at that time.

Senator O’BRIEN —I think you mentioned this, but how does transporting elderly people who do not have access to other means of transport work?

Mr Piantoni —Once again, a lot of those people are staying in the motels. The motels ring us and make arrangements for us to pick them up and take them on tours or get them from A to B.

Senator O’BRIEN —Would a person who resides in the outer suburbs of Darwin be the sort of person who would regularly use your service to get into town or to get from one suburb to another?

Mr Piantoni —Yes, they are. We are a very well-known company, so we do not do too much advertising. A lot of people are aware of the service. Even people who live in the northern suburbs or the outer Darwin area are aware of who we are and how we operate. They ring and make bookings for what they need to do.

Senator O’BRIEN —Do you have any idea of the proportion of tourists versus locals that you carry?

Mr Piantoni —It is 90 per cent locals and probably only about 10 per cent tourists.

Senator O’BRIEN —Does your company receive any financial assistance from local, territory or national governments?

Mr Piantoni —No, not at all.

Senator O’BRIEN —How does it intersect with the more regulated bus services that have effectively a permit to operate different routes in Darwin? Is there any linkage? How do you work with them? Is there a conflict?

Mr Piantoni —No, there is no conflict. We quite often transport a lot of people from where they live to the nearest bus stop or the nearest bus depot for the public bus system. That is mainly because a lot of new suburbs and areas do not have a route. They use us like a connecter bus. They ring up and say they need to be at the bus stop or the bus depot at a certain time, and we pick them up and drop them off there.

Senator O’BRIEN —What does your service cost? How should I understand the economics of your service for someone who wanted to go to a bus stop or something?

Mr Piantoni —Basically, because we are a multihire company, we are a bit cheaper than the normal taxi service. For example, you could ring up and say you want to go to Darwin city from Palmerston and there are four people. You would pay your fare, which was, say, $40, and at the same time we may have another booking for someone else who is going in the same direction and we would pick them up at the same time and take them with you and drop you off at your destination and the other people at their destination.

CHAIR —So a passenger can just be lucky if there are a number of people wanting to go from where they are. You can accommodate that and bring the price down for everybody.

Mr Piantoni —That is correct.

Senator O’BRIEN —So it is a flat fee and then you spread the fee amongst the number of passengers?

Mr Piantoni —No. Each group of passengers pay their own fee for where they are going, because one group might be going to Cullen Bay and the other people might be going to Stokes Hill Wharf. That is why we keep the groups separate. But it is a lot cheaper than using a taxi for that reason—that we are multi-hire.

Senator O’BRIEN —How many vehicles are in your fleet?

Mr Piantoni —We have 15 or 16 at the moment, and we need to upgrade the fleet to about 20 or 25. We just cannot get the drivers at the moment so we cannot upgrade. It is a very hard situation.

CHAIR —Gee, that is interesting, isn’t it?

Senator O’BRIEN —What is the impediment—that people do not like driving, there is a labour shortage in Darwin or—

Mr Piantoni —It is a mixture of things. It is partly that there is a bit of a labour shortage. It is the fact that we do not actually pay a wage; we pay a commission, and people need to be on an ABN. It is the lengthy time it takes for the people to obtain the licences to drive the vehicles—if someone is unemployed they might say: ‘Well, I can’t hang around for three or four weeks to wait for this job. I’ll go out and get another one.’ It is also the cost—most people who come knocking on the door for a job do not have any cash, they do not have the money to go through the courses, obtain their criminal histories and things like that, so I cannot take them on unless I am prepared to fork out the money from my own pocket and take the risk that they will not stay and drive for me. A lot of times I get burnt—people drive for one day and then decide it is not what they want to do and I am left out of pocket—so I do not do that real often any more. Night-time is probably the hardest time to get drivers for. Not many people like to work at night-time. Some of the passengers are a bit ‘how’re you goin’’ at night-time compared to passengers in the daytime. In the day we do more work for companies, schools, mothers and kids and pensioners, so it is pretty easy work. At night-time some people can be a handful. The majority of the people are pretty good, but trying to get people to drive is a bit hard.

Senator O’BRIEN —So you have 40-odd drivers?

Mr Piantoni —I have 38 at the moment and I am probably about nine or 10 drivers short for the fleet I already have. I constantly advertise—every week, all year through. Sometimes I will not get any applicants for two or three months and then all of a sudden I will get four or five. Two or three of those people will come through the loop. Maybe one of those people will stay for a lengthy period of time and the rest will only do two or three months and then finish up. It is a little bit hard as far as the drivers go.

Senator O’BRIEN —Have you approached any of the employment services operators to see how they can assist you?

Mr Piantoni —Yes, we currently deal with Mission Australia and a couple of other places, but, once again, more people are looking for jobs where they get paid a wage and there is superannuation, which is just impossible to do in this industry, especially when they are handling cash. As an operator, I could say to you, ‘Yes, I’ll pay you $25 an hour,’ but there is also a risk that some of the drivers will take money from that cash without us knowing. We can monitor that to a certain degree but there is always a certain amount of money that can be taken without us knowing. That is probably the biggest reason we do not pay a wage. I have paid a wage on a couple of different operations, and that does seem to work—I get plenty of drivers. But, once again, those jobs are only for very short periods of time, and we then get rid of the people because they do not want to drive the actual minibuses.

CHAIR —With all the drivers on commission, how do you divvy up the jobs, if you like, to make it reasonably fair across the drivers?

Mr Piantoni —Our base room have a manual that instructs them on how to give all the work out. Let us say that what we call a D5 is a $40 job. The operator keeps track of how many of those she gives to each car so that at the end of the day most of the drivers are within $20 or $30 of each other. The only time you will find a big difference is when you have a driver that will not cooperate and use the radio system that we have and that goes off and starts to do their own things. By the end of the day he is probably $100 less than everybody else, or if he has a lucky day he could be $200 more than everybody else. That does not happen really often because they either do it the right way or we do not employ them. We have to try and make it fair for everybody.

Senator STERLE —What would be the average earnings of your drivers a week?

Mr Piantoni —The averaged earning is about $1,000 a week for around about 50 hours. It goes up from there depending on how they operate the vehicle, whether they do night shift or day shift and whether they work certain days. Some days are busier than other days, so that has a bearing on how much they earn. Pretty well the minimum anyone earns at that job day or night, and not focusing on what days they work, would be $1,000 for the week.

Senator STERLE —It would be in your best interest to know what the bus companies are paying for similar work.

Mr Piantoni —That is right.

Senator STERLE —Is $1,000 a week for 50 hours about a town average?

Mr Piantoni —It is probably around about the average. There are not too many places that pay more than that, and quite a few pay a lot less. The only difference is that the drivers have the hassle of separating their GST, their tax and their superannuation. At the end of the day, if you drove for someone like Buslink the wage you would get would pretty well match our wage most of the time, I would imagine. There are not too many bus companies that do what we do and pay a wage. Basically, all the bus companies that pay wages have set route runs like Buslink and others. A lot of them work for the government, so they are guaranteed the money and that is how they pay their wages, whereas if our phone does not ring tomorrow we have no-one to fall back on.

Senator STERLE —You have runs but you are very flexible.

Mr Piantoni —That is right.

Senator STERLE —I was attracted to the flexibility of the service when I first used it in 2002. I used it because I was in a cab from the airport whose driver did nothing but whinge about the Arafura Shuttle, so I thought I had better try the Arafura Shuttle, and it was a very effective service. Is it still the case that you will pop in to a side street, drop someone off and pick someone else up?

Mr Piantoni —That is still the case. Nothing has changed. If anything has changed it is that we have improved the service a bit more in different areas. The service is very flexible and quite cheap compared to other services around the city.

Senator STERLE —Do you have an estimate of yearly patronage? If you have told us already, that is all right.

Mr Piantoni —We have clientele that use us day in, day out, like the mother that takes her kids shopping. She will normally use the service a minimum of three times a week. We have other people that use the service every day of the week, each morning and each afternoon, to go to work or something like that. Probably 30 per cent of our clientele are people that use us on a daily basis or on a weekly basis, and the rest of the people are just on call.

Senator O’BRIEN —Do people sort of use you like a carpool to go to work? Are there regular groups who go from a particular area and spread the cost?

Mr Piantoni —No, we do not do too much of that. What we find is that a lot of the companies that employ people who have not got licences or transport will normally hire the bus on a permanent basis and we go round, pick their workers up, drop them off at the site, pick them up again in the afternoon and take them back home. We offer a door-to-door service. If you were working at the wharf, we would start of in Palmerston, let us say. There might be one person there who is going to that site. There might be one in Nakara, there might be one in Coconut Grove and there may be a couple in the city. We would just do a big loop, pick them all up and drop them all off at the work site and then do the same thing in the afternoon.

Senator STERLE —If someone puts a call in to you just out of the blue, what is the normal waiting time—average?

Mr Piantoni —An average waiting time is about half an hour. In peak periods when you may have something like the show coming up, we find that there are delays of up to an hour. But customers are normally informed of that at the time. We say, ‘Look, we’ve got 15 to 20 jobs on hold at the moment, so it could be within an hour.’ It is not very often that we go over that. The average would be somewhere between 15 minutes and half an hour. A lot of times, you would get picked up in 10 minutes. But we always quote 15 minutes or half an hour.

Senator STERLE —Of course, if somebody is standing on the side of the road they only have to put their hand up and if there is a seat you will pull over.

Mr Piantoni —That is right.

Senator STERLE —Are you similar to taxis? Is there a licence fee that you have to pay to the Territory government?

Mr Piantoni —Yes. Our plate fees are pretty well the same as those for taxis. We pay the same rate. We do all the same things as taxis. The only different is that we have not got the exposure that taxis do. What I mean by that is that if you have a look at the airport they have good exposure to people when they walk out of the door. We have one little parking spot right up the end in the dark. It is the same round the city area. If you have a look, all the taxi ranks are in prime locations, whereas our ranks are few and far between and hard to find. That is probably one of the biggest reasons why we do not have vehicles based in Darwin city all the time—we just do not have the exposure. You could not expect a driver to just sit around the corner somewhere and hope that someone is going to walk into their bus and want to go somewhere. The taxis are all over the place.

Place like the airport we try not to service unless people make bookings. We have a lot of people who ring up from Melbourne or Sydney or whatever who say: ‘I’m flying in on this flight. There are four of us. We want to be picked up and go to the Novatel.’ We will meet that plane and pick them up. But if we are a little bit quiet work wise we will not just go and sit at the airport and hope that we get a fair. The same thing applies in the city and at Casuarina, purely because the taxis have all the major spots where people can see them—you walk out of a door and there they are. If you walk out a door and try to find a minibus, you need a navigation system that knows where we are.

Senator STERLE —Yet you pay the same fees as the taxis.

Mr Piantoni —We pay the same fees as the taxis, yes. Apart from that, everything else pretty well works the same. We can pick up hail fares and we can multi hire. We pretty well do everything, except without the exposure.

Senator STERLE —If someone wants to book your metro bus and have it to themselves, they pay a set fee—whatever that may be. But is it the case that if there are more people the price becomes lower per person?

Mr Piantoni —It does, yes. In other words, if you were going to go to town by yourself, you would pay the full rate. But you might book a bus going to town when there are 13 in your group. If you split 13 into 40, you are getting away quite lightly. It does not change. Whether there is one or 13, it is a set price. And nine times out of 10 that fare would be cheaper than catching the taxi even if you were the only one paying the fare.

Senator STERLE —So typically, if I am standing on the side of the road in Palmerston and one of your buses goes by and I put my hand up and jump in with others, what would it cost for me to get from Palmerston to the city?

Mr Piantoni —If you were coming into the city it would cost you $40.

Senator STERLE —Even though I am sharing with 12 other people?

Mr Piantoni —But those 12 other people, probably nine times out of 10, will not be going to the city. They will probably just be getting dropped off locally. If you hail one of our buses and we have got four people on board, and those four people have boarded the bus—one may live in Moulden, one may live in Woodroffe and one may live in Rosebery—we drop those off first because they are in that local area, and then we continue into the city. You would be the only one going into the city on that bus.

Senator STERLE —Right, and paying the full fare.

Mr Piantoni —And it is like that because if I picked you up in the city, for instance, and you were going to Palmerston, but someone else hopped in and he was going out to Casuarina, we would then have to detour. So he would pay his fare, which would be, let us say, $25 to go to Casuarina. It is cheaper than a taxi anyway so he has done all right because he has saved money even though he has paid the full fare. You would be in the same boat. You would still be paying less than you would for a taxi even though you are going by yourself.

Senator STERLE —So your business is attractive for groups.

Mr Piantoni —Yes.

Senator STERLE —Senator O’Brien said that if people were car-pooling this would be a very attractive system.

Mr Piantoni —It would, because if you are car-pooling there would still be the $40 and you would still have 13 people on the bus. So if there were 13 people car-pooling you would divide that 13 into $40 and that is how much it would cost you to get from Palmerston to the city. If you had to drive your own car, it would cost you more than that just in fuel.

Senator STERLE —Parking fees or whatever. Does your company market that well in Darwin?

Mr Piantoni —We do not actually do too much advertising. The company has been operational for 14 years. It is very well known and it has got a pretty good reputation, so we find that we do not need to do too much advertising. The only area that probably would need advertising would be all the new suburbs that they build from time to time. Maybe we would then advertise in a new suburb because a lot of the people who live there would be coming from interstate but otherwise, apart from that, everyone pretty well knows the service.

Senator STERLE —I think that for Perth where I come from it would be fantastic. Make no mistake, it would be great. If you had a group of car-poolers, say, 13 people, is it possible that, if they were all picked up in two or three locations very close together that there would not be any extra charges and it would still be $40? Is that how it works? Or do they all have to be at the one-stop?

Mr Piantoni —They would all have to be at the one pickup and the one stop. If you start to do different locations, then the price does go up depending on the locations.

Senator STERLE —It would still be an attractive situation compared to daily fuel, parking fees and the hassle of sitting on the freeway in the major cities.

Mr Piantoni —Yes.

Senator O’BRIEN —The example you gave earlier of a company that might have you pick up a number of its workers to drop at one point: how would that work for them cost wise, because that would be a variety of pickups but one delivery destination?

Mr Piantoni —It would depend on how many pickup points they have. Basically I get all the information and I try to assess the job. You may have five pickups but if they are all in the same suburb, then you can cut your pickup costs. But it does get expensive when you need to go from this side of town to that side of town and from that side of town to this side of town and then branch out. That is when it does get expensive. But, if it is within the same two- or three-kilometre radius, that is where we cut the pickup costs because you are only going from one street to another. We charge $10 per pickup or per drop-off over and above A to B. If your company said, ‘Look, I have got six pickups but they are all within the same two-kilometre radius,’ I would then charge you maybe $4 or $5 a pickup and drop-off and then the base rate from A to B. So it really depends on how many and where they are, and you need to assess every job on its own in that situation.

Senator STERLE —With your fare structure, do you have to work with the department of planning and infrastructure or transport here in the Territory, or can you set your fares?

Mr Piantoni —We can set the fares to where we want them, but we do supply price lists. Every time we have a price rise or change prices we normally supply a list to the department and they can sort of keep that on file. So if someone rings up and makes a complaint they can always go back to that and have a look. It is a fairly basic price list because, as you can imagine, there are that many areas and our price book is probably about 40 pages long. It gives every price and every scenario you might think of. On our window, the price list is about this long, and it has all your basics on it, and at the bottom it tells you to inquire if you want to do something else.

Senator STERLE —I will come back quickly to the registration fee you pay to the Territory government. What does it actually give you, apart from a bay at the airport that you need a GPS to find?

Mr Piantoni —That is a good question. I cannot think of much.

Senator O’BRIEN —The right to operate.

Mr Piantoni —Yes, basically the right to keep your vehicle on the road. That is about it. There are a lot more things that could be done. I will give you an example. I went to Adelaide 12 months ago, and it was half past 12 at night and there was an inspector booking a car for parking on the taxi rank. That was at 12.30 at night. You would be lucky if you were to see anyone here at 12.30 at night. I think there could be a lot more done in that area—all the fees that are collected and what they get spent on—but that is out of my hands.

Senator STERLE —And the business: can you give us some growth figures? Has it exploded in the last two years, or has it been around 38, 40 or 44 vehicles every year?

Mr Piantoni —It does go up. Each year, apart from this year, we have been getting busier and the turnover has been increasing. This year has not really gone up. It has gone down a little bit, mainly because a lot of the mining companies that we did work for have now closed down or ceased operation for a short period of time. The schools do not seem to be moving around as much as what they used to in previous years. So yes, it has gone down a little bit this year.

Senator STERLE —Do you do contract school bus runs as well?

Mr Piantoni —Yes. They are not actually written contracts, but we have schools that use us all the time. They just ring up and tell us what their itinerary is, and we supply the buses.

Senator STERLE —Are these state schools or independent schools?

Mr Piantoni —They are state schools and a few private ones.

CHAIR —Is that for permanent pick-ups or is that more for excursions and that type of thing?

Mr Piantoni —It is more for excursions and that sort of thing. We do not do too much of the permanent pick-up side of it, basically because that is all tied up with another company. They do pretty well all the government work.

CHAIR —Are there any other companies that operate the same way that you do in Darwin? The flexibility that you have and that you offer is terrific.

Mr Piantoni —Not at the moment, no. There were about five or six different companies going back six years ago. That is when our fees were a lot cheaper. Our fees for minibuses used to be only $5,000 or $5,500 a year, and then they slowly progressed up to $16,000 or so. In that transition period, where each year they have gone up by a few thousand at a time, companies have been closing down and have not been able to afford to operate.

CHAIR —What is that charge?

Mr Piantoni —That is for the plate fees—

Senator O’BRIEN —Per bus?

Mr Piantoni —For a taxi or minibus.

CHAIR —How did your company start? What led to the beginning?

Mr Piantoni —I cannot answer too much on that because I took over the company from someone else about seven years ago. Prior to that, I think the Territory government must have allowed minibuses to come on board. Even at that time they had different plates. I am not too sure about that. It progressed from there. More people started buying them and running these operations. When the fees started moving, that is when it all got too hard and people started going broke and closing down.

CHAIR —Why do you think you have been successful where others have not? If we are going to use it as a bit of a template for other cities or places, why do you think you have been successful?

Mr Piantoni —I put it down to a couple of things. First, I was fortunate to have a lot of money behind me when I started, to get me through these times. Second, the way I run the company and discipline staff who drive for me has a lot to do with survival. Basically, I have known certain people who are efficient. The biggest part of the reason why I am still here is that I had money behind me when I started, otherwise I probably would not be sitting here today either.

Senator STERLE —It is an interesting concept. I did not want to say it, but when I used it I am sure it cost only a gold coin. But, anyway, it was only a hop, step and a jump.

Mr Piantoni —It was. I remember that when it started it cost, I think, $1.50 per person.

Senator STERLE —I got ripped off—I paid $2, I think.

Mr Piantoni —It went up to $2, then $3 and then $4, and that is about where it is now—$4 per person.

Senator STERLE —How much were the fees back then?

Mr Piantoni —They were around $5,500 per year.

Senator STERLE —Sorry—you did say that. It is now $16,000?

Mr Piantoni —Yes, it is $16,000.

Senator STERLE —And you have about 16 buses?

Mr Piantoni —Yes.

Senator O’BRIEN —Is there any possibility to use your services in conjunction with the other services, in a different way than you currently do, to supplement the service around town for particular routes, for example, rather than job-by-job hire?

Mr Piantoni —I would imagine that it could be done, but that is entirely up to whether the government wants to take that on board or whether it lets us run it in the way we do. You will find that at a lot of those route services are government funded anyway. That is pretty well all tied up here in the Territory. I am not sure about Brisbane or Sydney. I would imagine that different areas and different government bodies would tender them out. I have not seen any of that work come up for tender here since I have been here, but that is not to say it does not. I do not really know how it works.

Senator STERLE —In Perth there is a classic example. Taxi drivers are very vocal about it. We have a problem shifting the late-night revellers. There are lots of problems because a lot of taxis do not want to do it. There have been trials of buses, but then you get all the drunks in one bus and it creates havoc. The thing is to try and move them out of the nightspot centres of Northbridge and Fremantle. Does that happen here in Darwin?

Mr Piantoni —Yes, it does. We have pretty well the same problem that you just talked about. If you use a bigger bus or a 13-seater bus, you just get more drunks in a confined area and it creates more problems. It is a lot harder to find drivers to cope with that. I do not allow my drivers to finish up at, say, 3 o’clock before the clubs close and go home and leave everyone standing on the street. In the contract that my drivers sign, they must hire the bus at a certain time and not finish until a certain time. I think with the taxi operations their drivers are more or less allowed to do whatever they want. If they want to start at four in the afternoon and knock off at midnight, that is how it is going to be and no-one is going to change it.

I did have that problem when I took over Metro, but then as soon as I sacked all the drivers and left all my buses parked up in the yard for a few nights people slowly started coming back and asking, ‘Can I have my job back?’ I said, ‘Yes, you can have it back but it will be on my terms.’ I think that has a lot to do with it. It is a bit hard doing it my way as well, because that makes you liable if anything does go wrong. The driver can turn around and say: ‘Well, you made me pick them up. You made me stay out.’ That is another thing that you have to watch. I do give them the option. I say: ‘If they’re too drunk, just don’t pick them up. Pick up someone else in the crowd.’

Senator STERLE —Mind you, that is easier said than done, isn’t it? If they are a group of revellers who have gone out together, it is a bit hard—and, mind you, I have seen it happen—telling one they cannot get in the bus but saying the other five can.

Mr Piantoni —It is okay if you are at a secure taxi rank and you have security guards trying to control the situation. But, if you are just picking up from the normal rank, where there is no-one there to police it, you could get yourself into a lot of trouble. It depends how you handle it on the night, I suppose.

Senator STERLE —The problems are not constrained to borders.

CHAIR —That is for sure. Do you have many issues like that? You say, ‘This could happen,’ or, ‘That could happen,’ with those sorts of late-night revellers. Do you have a lot of actual trouble or is it just trying to be aware all the time of the possibility?

Mr Piantoni —We have got a pretty good rapport. We may have two major incidents a year. You get plenty of fares that are vocal, but as far as physical violence goes we do not really get much. Over the last couple of years I have been monitoring the situations I hear about, for some reason the taxis seem to cop a lot more of the violence compared to us. I do not know what the reason behind that is. I do notice that they cop a lot more of the violence than we do for some reason. It may be because, if a violent person gets on the bus, he knows there are 10 other people there who will jump in. That could be a deterrent. I do not know. We do not really get too much stuff like that happening. I think last year we had two assaults. We had none the year before. There have been none this year so far, but we are only a month into it.

CHAIR —Did that lead to any issues between the drivers and the company?

Mr Piantoni —No. Actually, the same two drivers are still working there. They all understand that there is a risk and they all understand that you will cop a certain amount of abuse. I suppose it all comes back to the person, how he handles the situation and whether he is strong enough to take that abuse. Everyone is different. That is basically what I am trying to say. For some people, if something happens once he will never drive a vehicle again. For other people, it can happen six times and each time they get stronger and they deal with it in different ways the next time.

CHAIR —Do you have mostly male drivers? Are there female drivers as well?

Mr Piantoni —They are mostly male. We have a couple of female drivers but mostly male drivers. The female drivers tend to work more during the day and that is probably a bit more of my doing than theirs. I have had a couple who have wanted to do night shift but I am not real keen on that situation. I try and keep them more on the days.

Senator STERLE —What we have found in other inquiries travelling around the country on other issues is that there is a great workforce out there in terms of mothers who are available once the kids have been dropped off to school and prior to them being picked up in the afternoon. Do you have many of those employees or contractors?

Mr Piantoni —I do have, probably, three or four like that. They can only work once the kids have been dropped off and then they have to finish at a certain time to get back to the school. I am pretty flexible with things like that. I am pretty flexible with single parents if any of them come along. At the end of the day you need that flexibility because someone that may have a child who is going to school could end up being your best driver. Whether that person only works one shift a week or four half-shifts a week, you are better off with a good driver than a bad driver or no drivers.

Senator STERLE —Especially when you have a labour shortage, as you have.

Mr Piantoni —Yes.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for appearing here today. We appreciate it very much.

Mr Piantoni —Thank you.

[10.11 am]