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Bogus cabbies prey on partygoers
The West Australian

Car drivers are advertising "taxi" services on the internet, sparking warnings from transport authorities to partygoers hoping to beat Perth's taxi shortage in the lead-up to New Year's Eve.

_The West Australian _ has discovered several advertisements on websites such as Gumtree offering lifts for money in the festive season.

One advertiser, Phil, said he could offer a cheaper and more reliable service than a standard taxi.

He said he could transport up to four people in his sedan on New Year's Eve. A one-way trip from Perth to Fremantle would cost about $35, roughly half a standard taxi fare.

Another advertiser offered a 24-hour pick-up-drop-off service at Perth Airport "cheaper in price" and in "a nice clean car".

But Taxi Council WA chief executive Olwyn Williams said it was extremely dangerous to accept a lift from someone who was not a licensed transport provider.

"If you get in an illegal taxi, there is no guarantee the driver is qualified to drive or that their vehicle is safe for you to travel in," she said. "There is no way you can be tracked - it's potentially very dangerous.

"Our taxi drivers undergo extensive screenings - as do our vehicles - and we have cameras and GPS devices in each taxi to track and monitor them at all times.

"We would urge people, for their own safety, to avoid illegal taxis. It is simply not worth the risk."

A Department of Transport spokeswoman said it was an offence to carry passengers for hire and reward in a private vehicle. Four people had recently been given $500 infringement notices for illegally providing passenger transport.

She said the department would work with Gumtree to remove the offending advertisements.

A local limousine operator said the internet was used by registered drivers to advertise their business.

But he said there was no doubt it was also used by others attempting to cash in on Perth's taxi shortage by offering an illegal service.

Ms Williams said she understood people's frustrations over long waits for a taxi during peak times.

She also conceded there was a peak-period taxi shortage in Perth and that operators struggled to cope with increased demand over the Christmas-New Year period. Swan Taxis got 18,000 calls on a 12-hour Saturday shift this month.

"We do see these huge spikes of people catching taxis in December," Ms Williams said. "But January is our quietest month and there's no work. We can't just bring in taxis to cater for the peak period because it would not be economically viable in the long term."

Public Transport Authority spokesman David Hynes said it was important for partygoers to plan their travel home.

On New Year's Eve, Transperth trains, buses and ferries will operate on a standard weekday timetable, with some extra services. New Year's Day will be a Sunday/public holiday timetable.

'A solution has to be found to alleviate the debacle that takes place when demand outstrips supply every silly season.'"Amanda Banks _OPINION _P22