Monthly Archives:August 2018

The goCatch ordering form and location maps allow the fare and the driver to know each other’s whereabouts in real time. The Fels taxi inquiry report recommended changes to make the industry more competitve and improve services.

TRAIN commuters have ”quiet carriages” on some services. The next welcome addition to public transport would be a cab service that doesn’t take the scenic route home because your driver has no clue where he’s going, one that’s ready to go when you are, and is preferably free of unwelcome music, body odour and a broken eftpos system.

Two-thirds of respondents in a Tour and Transport survey in 2010 rated customer service in cabs as ”poor” and ”very poor”. Complaints to the regulator, the Victorian Taxi Directorate, had trebled in the five years from 2005 to 2010, up from 1564 in ’05 to nearly 5000 in ’10. (There were 4000 complaints to the directorate in 2011 but the mechanism for lodging had been changed – they now must be submitted in writing using an online form; previously, you could phone in complaints.)

Besieged by bad behaviour from drivers and passengers alike, the Victorian government is pulling rank on the industry, using the results of a 16-month inquiry headed by Allan Fels, former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, as its main tool to drive change.

Fels’ final report to the government, which was tabled in Parliament in December, offers 145 draft recommendations designed to lift standards and restore consumer trust in the taxi and hire-car industry, into which Victorians are paying $120 million a year for services.

”The inquiry is recommending a comprehensive reform package that will unleash the dynamic forces of competition in an industry that has been largely shielded from these forces for decades,” the Fels report says.

The key changes that will affect Victoria’s 15,000 taxi drivers and 2600 hire-car chauffeurs include more stringent requirements for drivers, new knowledge exams, a fare restructure and a reduction in car licences (valued at what Fels called a ”dead weight” of $475,000 when the inquiry began in 2011) to a one-off set price of $40,000 for a metropolitan prebooked-only (PBO) licence and $20,000 a year for a metro taxi zone licence.

The changes could transform the industry dominated by two main taxi companies and one payment system, and create space for new global players such as Uber, an on-demand hire-car service app that lets you see and book vehicles through your smartphone. Two years since its launch, the San Francisco start-up is now operating in 26 cities around the world, with 100 luxury cars on the grid in Sydney since launching in October, and 15 vehicles in Melbourne.

Once you’ve downloaded the Uber app and registered your details (including a phone scan of your credit card), you can see the cars – the all-black fleet comprises recent-model Chrysler, Lexus, Holden Caprice and BMW vehicles – in your area onscreen, moving like ants through the streets.

Ordering one takes seconds. (The two I requested on January 31 were on my doorstep in 11 minutes – 25 kilometres from the city centre – and in three minutes, on Spring Street, complete with an open door, a bottle of water and a query about the airconditioning settings.

The Uber service meets many of the reforms proposed in Fels’ inquiry, including better, safer cars, and more choice, reliability, availability and innovation – but it does come at a cost. These hire cars are 30 per cent more expensive than a present cab fare, with Uber taking a 20 per cent commission.

All Uber drivers must have a current hire-car licence, insurance, and pass a personal interview and city knowledge test.

But it is the customers who determine the continuing employment of the drivers, by rating them at the end of each trip (Uber periodically sacks poorly rated drivers).

While passengers await the arrival of their Uber car, the app allows them to see the driver’s photograph, licence plate number, and star rating.

Uber general manager in Sydney, David Rohrsheim, says the feedback works both ways, with drivers also able to rate passengers, creating a greater sense of accountability.

”What changes driving from unsafe to safe is removing the anonymity,” he says. ”When you know who the driver is and who the passenger is, people behave differently. Taxi drivers can be rude and useless because they know you can’t choose who you get next, but now you have an opportunity to give feedback.”

Location-based app goCatch, developed in Sydney by entrepreneurs Andrew Campbell and Ned Moorfield, also relies on a rating system to connect passengers and taxi drivers.

With 100,000 downloads and 5000 active drivers using the system to get fares, the company’s biggest surprise since starting up has been the growth and profitability of short fares, which directly addresses the ”short fare refusal” concerns raised in the Fels report.

”Drivers are attracted to the large $50-plus fares and so, often ignore short fares,” chief executive Andrew Campbell says. ”Our drivers are being rewarded for picking up short fares and are telling us they have never made so much money.”

Campbell believes app-requested jobs reduce the risk for driver and passenger, as they can see each other’s location on a map in real time, creating a fast connection (goCatch takes 10 per cent of each fare made through its network).

According to goCatch booking data from November and December 2012, the hardest place to catch a cab in Melbourne is in the outer east, but Campbell says location-based apps are changing this. ”Drivers will take a passenger to the outer suburbs and then drive an empty cab back into the city – a return trip that is entirely unprofitable,” he says.

”We improve the driver’s chances of picking up a customer in a remote area.”

Campbell says his company refers matters of bullying and threats to the ACCC. ”We’re talking about people’s livelihoods … [drivers] just trying to provide better service and run their business more efficiently,” he says.

The NSW Taxi Council has expressed concern about the new players. It says its gripe is not with the technology, but that booking apps aren’t regulated.

”Taxi networks guarantee that the booking is allocated to an accredited driver in a roadworthy vehicle; that the trip is tracked with GPS; security cameras can be made available to police; that the regulated fare is charged; that any complaints are fully investigated; and that efforts are made to return any lost property,” a spokesman says.

The council says it costs significant amounts of money to meet the government’s regulations, and claims apps-based fleets are ”relying on the taxi industry’s reputation for safety without the need to comply with any of the regulations or the degree of accountability that makes the industry safe”.

”A regulated system needs to have a level playing field,” the council says.Worst suburbs for catching taxis

■ Briar Hill■ Greensborough■ Croydon South■ Eltham■ Scoresby■ Skye■ Seaford■ Ferntree Gully■ Boronia■ Park Orchards

Based on goCatch data for six weeks from November to mid-December 2012, the number of goCatch jobs that had been posted but not accepted, and the number of people trying to get taxis in that area.

LINKS ■ uber苏州美甲美睫培训■ gocatch苏州美甲美睫培训

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THE ski slopes of Whistler and suburban Las Vegas might be good places for investigators to look as they hunt for offshore assets belonging to fallen child-minder ”Fast” Eddy Groves.

Groves, whose ABC Learning empire collapsed in 2008 owing more than $1.6 billion, was bankrupted by Commonwealth Bank a fortnight ago over an $8 million loan he had used to buy the Adelaide Dome. Trustee in bankruptcy Mark Robinson of PPB was appointed to chase down the dollars.

Queensland court records show Groves owned a gigantic spread on the southern outskirts of Vegas, worth $US2.5 million, and half of a $C454,000 ($A437,000) unit in a hotel development at Whistler, a ski resort town in British Columbia.

According to the Vegas place’s listing on a US real estate agent’s website, the Asian-themed, five-bedroom, eight-bathroom ”palace” comes complete with a double-sided glass fireplace, indoor water feature, 15-seat home theatre and a full-size billiard table.

Groves also had a bank account with US bank Wells Fargo, although it contained only a couple of thousand bucks.

CBD uses the past tense because Groves may well have flogged off the assets since last May, when he disclosed them to the Queensland Supreme Court records as part of a stoush over bail conditions (charges against the former milkman have since been dropped).

Groves told the court he needed his bail varied so he could travel to the US to sell the Vegas property, which he valued at $US2.5 million.

”I would like to be personally involved in any preparations for sale and not have to undertake these tasks remotely from Australia,” he said in an affidavit.

”The house is a significant asset.”

Significant indeed. The property also boasts a ”sleek and breathtaking swimming pool”, ”endless exotic wood built-ins, pro-grade appliances and state-of-the-art A/V throughout” and ”spectacular, unobstructed views of the entire Las Vegas Valley, day or night”, according to its listing on Oakville Properties.

It looks like Groves got a sale, with US property website Redfin recording it as changing hands for $US2.5 million on July 30 last year.

But could he have got more? Oakville is offering the ”stunning Asian-fusion contemporary estate” for a mere $US7 million.

CBD has dropped a line to the firm’s president, Aaron Wheeler, to see if it’s still on the market.

Downhill run

”TODAY’S co-host, Frances Whiting, owns shares in ABC Learning Centres.” – ABC Radio Queensland profile of ”astute businessman” Eddy Groves, August 3, 2005.

Value of one ABC Learning share on August 3, 2005: $5.32.

Value of one ABC Learning share today: $0.

Vampire kangaroo

FANGS out for Macquarie Group at Uncle Rupert Murdoch’s The Sunday Times, which labelled the millionaires factory ”the vampire kangaroo” at the weekend.

The Sunday Times, Rupert’s weekend title, reckons that since 2005 funds controlled by Macquarie and its investment partners have paid just £1.8 million ($A2.7 million) in tax despite reaping £2.2 billion in divvies and interest payments on four big UK assets.

”If Goldman Sachs was dubbed Wall Street’s ‘vampire squid’ for ‘relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’, critics say Macquarie is Britain’s ‘vampire kangaroo’, feasting on our creaking infrastructure and then hopping back to Sydney with billions in its pouch,” the paper said.

It said Macquarie was not accused of breaking the law but used tax breaks and tax havens to ”whittle its tax bill down to, in most cases, nil”.

The joy of six

HE PROFESSES to be ”very happy”, but does a heart of stone beat under the cheerful exterior presented by Commonwealth Bank boss Ian Narev?

Asked during a teleconference on Tuesday to rate the bank’s record $3.78 billion half-year cash earnings, he told Bell Potter analyst TS Lim he plumped for six out of 10 ”because I’m very happy”.

”But I would never rate anything above that at seven,” he quickly added.

The transcript records an unidentified voice as chiming in: ”He is very hard-hearted.”

Cookoff cash

A TYPO in Tuesday’s CBD might have confused some readers. Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg did not get $1000 from Harmers Workplace Lawyers as part of the CEO Cookoff charity event on Monday night.

Harmers pledged the money as part of the fund-raising efforts of publican Justin Hemmes. Frydenberg gave $100 towards Hemmes’ $34,000 fund-raising total.

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SURGING global sharemarkets have yet to benefit share registry heavyweight Computershare, with three large acquisitions in the first half of 2012 dragging on profit in the second.

Computershare posted a net profit of $94.8 million in the six months to December 31, down 15.2 per cent. The company said profits rose 16.4 per cent if one-off costs of the acquisitions were excluded.

”We have witnessed a recent up-tick in equity markets as reflected in the higher index levels across the globe,” Computershare chief executive Stuart Crosby said. ”However, we are not seeing that in our business.”

The company maintained an interim dividend of 14¢ a share, but the franking credit was cut from 60 per cent to 20 per cent.

”We will be disappointed if we won’t be able to maintain that sort of [franking credit] level, and it depends on the profitability of our Australian business rather than our international business,” outgoing chief financial officer Peter Barker said.

Computershare derives 76 per cent of its revenue outside Australia and last year doubled its presence in the North American market by spending $550 million to buy Bank of New York Mellon’s share-owner services division.

Deutsche analysts said despite Computershare management meeting their profit forecast, underlying revenue streams were displaying ”softness”.

”Revenues of $988 million were down 4 per cent versus Deutsche’s [forecast] with weakness evident in registry and stakeholders management, ” analysts Kieren Chidgey and Shreyas Patel said in a research note. They also questioned the sustainability of margin income, which made up 65 per cent of pre-tax profit in the half year.

Computershare generates margin income on the $16.7 billion of client money it holds on any given day by investing on the short-term money market.

Mr Crosby said the company’s focus for the past year had been the integration of its newly acquired businesses.

Incoming CFO Mark Davis, the former regional director of North America, said the integration of the Bank of New York Mellon business would be completed by June.

Mr Crosby said the company was looking at new acquisition targets.

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SHARES in construction company Leighton Holdings have enjoyed their biggest one-day gain in more than four years in a sign its long-suffering shareholders finally believe the company may have put the worst of its troubles behind it.

Leighton reported a $450 million full-year profit on Wednesday, reversing a net loss of $285.5 million the previous year.

A string of profit downgrades over the past two years due to hefty cost blowouts on Brisbane’s Airport Link and the Victorian desalination plant wiped out the contractor’s profits on some 400 other projects.

Both projects have since been completed and handed over in the past six months, and chief executive Hamish Tyrwhitt said the company was keen to demonstrate to investors that it had resolved its legacy issues and was rebuilding for the future.

”Last year was always about Airport Link and [Victoria’s desalination plant],” Mr Tyrwhitt told BusinessDay. ”It’s really great that people are asking about the future.”

The profit result came in at the top of the company’s guidance for the year, which is now based on the calendar year to bring Leighton in line with German majority shareholder Hochtief and its Spanish parent Grupo ACS.

Leighton provided guidance of underlying net profit between $520 million and $600 million for the current year, optimistic that the Chinese economy will continue to stabilise, and help buttress mining activity.

Shares in Leighton surged $2.33, or 11.2 per cent, to $23.14 on Wednesday, but still remain well below their 2010 peak, before the string of write-downs.

It declared a final dividend of 60¢ per share, 50 per cent franked, payable on March 28. Taking into account the unfranked interim dividend of 20¢ per share, the dividend payout of 80¢ per share represents a payout ratio of 60 per cent of underlying profits.

In an investor and analyst briefing, Mr Tyrwhitt and chief financial officer Peter Gregg reiterated it was taking on a more cautious approach and was no longer chasing ”growth for growth’s sake”, in contrast to the heady days under the helm of former company stalwart Wal King.

But another ”legacy” issue dogging Leighton is its cash-burning joint venture in the Middle East with Al Habtoor Group.

The contractor wrote down the carrying value of its investment in Habtoor Leighton by another $82 million due to operating losses and a $20 million impairment.

Leighton’s total exposure is $1.1 billion, including $298 million in carrying value and $807 million in loans.

Habtoor Leighton has had trouble collecting its debts after the downturn of the property market, particularly in Dubai. It has since refocused its growth on the more financially robust economies of oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

”We’re receiving piecemeal payments,” Mr Gregg said.

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Brisbane model and fashion blogger Kellie Pembroke in some of Popbasic’s items.Selling clothes and accessories online is hardly a novel concept but Brisbane “fashion technology” entrepreneur Madeline Veenstra is hoping her new business will tap a niche online retailers have overlooked.

The co-founder of Wikifashion, an online fashion news and images repository modelled on Wikipedia, is now in San Francisco, where Veenstra and her boyfriend and business partner, programmer Coen Hyde, have launched Popbasic.

The site sells “mini monthly collections”, a bundle of clothes and accessories priced between $50 and $100 and delivered free. Customers sign up to an email alert and are sent details of the collections each month. It is almost a monthly subscription, but without the obligation to buy.

The debut collection – designed by Veenstra and sourced from China – comprised a spotted blouse, two costume jewellery necklaces and a surprise gift. It was launched via social media in late January and sold more than 100 units, a break-even point for the venture, according to Veenstra. About 3000 potential buyers subscribed to the alert in the first two weeks.

Popbasic aims to undercut chains such as Sportsgirl in the under-30s market, but Veenstra is also planning premium and men’s micro-collections.

No strangers to the rag trade, Veenstra and Coen co-founded Wikifashion in 2009. It is updated regularly by a team of 6000 mostly unpaid contributors, and has 70,000 regular users, most of them based in the US.

After Wikifashion was listed for funding by the Australian Small Scale Offerings Board last year, the pair prepared to take their business to New York, the world’s fashion capital. When funding wasn’t forthcoming, the pair decided to retain Wikifashion as a community-driven resource and headed to the west coast instead.

Veenstra said San Francisco’s budding fashion technology sector was a better fit for the self-funded new business than the Big Apple.

Cheaper shipping costs and the absence of GST made the US an attractive location for online retailers, she said.

The vibrant west coast start-up sector was a bonus, as was the presence of a slew of fashion and beauty vendors keen to align themselves with the latest online store, she added.

“There are a lot of fashion technology meet-ups . . . it could be run out of Australia but the time difference makes things difficult and there’s no beauty and lifestyle brands to partner with in Australia.”

Opengear chairman and angel investor Bob Waldie said Veenstra’s reasoning was sound.

“Australia is not a great place from which to grow a global technology business – and if that business involves manufacture and distribution of physical goods, then Australia is not even a sensible place,” Waldie said.

But Brisbane Angels Group chairman John Mactaggart said some entrepreneurs were too quick to pack their bags.

“There is the perception that things are easier in the US, so few people spend the time to analyse ways to exploit the advantages of their local community that will give them a point of difference from the competition,” Mactaggart said.

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