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Taxi rip-off warning ahead of public holiday as unsuspecting Aussies fleeced: 'Unscrupulous'

Getting a ride home can be costly if you're not paying close attention. But it's even harder to get a refund.

I had a frustrating battle to try and get a refund for a taxi after being blatantly overcharged after a night out in Sydney. I tapped my card without thinking at the destination and found I'd been charged $70 for a $25 fee.

That was two years ago and I thought things had gotten better. So you can understand my shock when a family friend was charged $90 for a taxi ride from Sydney Airport to Kensington - a fare that should have cost around $40 in a taxi, and under $30 in an Uber.

A work colleague was also charged $90 for a fare between Newtown and Annandale, which should have cost around $25. This ongoing pattern of overcharging is an embarrassment for a city that prides itself on being a welcoming international destination.

How can Sydney claim to be a world-class city when tourists and locals alike are routinely fleeced by unscrupulous taxi drivers, or just flat-out refused?

Graham Cooke was shocked that years after his own taxi rip-off, unscrupulous drivers were still pulling the same stunts.
Graham Cooke was shocked that years after his own taxi rip-off, unscrupulous drivers were still pulling the same stunts. (Belinda Grant-Geary)

It's important to acknowledge that many of Sydney's taxi drivers provide an honest service. Additionally, rideshare providers are far from perfect and surge pricing can make cabs a cheaper alternative.


However, the lack of transparent pricing and accountability creates an environment where a predatory minority can exploit unsuspecting customers, especially tourists.

Some drivers deliberately target those who might be tired, less likely to question a fare, or not tech-savvy enough to use rideshare services.

The contrast with rideshare couldn't be starker.

Rideshare users get upfront fare estimates and seamless refund processes.

In the taxi industry, customers often face a confusing web of shifting responsibility, being passed between taxi companies, payment processors, and networks, all while nobody takes responsibility.

Just after my experience, visiting family friends were dismayed when, on a night out in Sydney, every taxi they approached refused to take them to their destination or proposed inflated fixed prices at least double the actual fare.

The same thing happened to Adam Hills who had to withdraw cash and offer double a cab fare after being twice rejected by taxi drivers at Sydney Airport because the journey was too short.

Due to these issues, new regulations were introduced in May 2023, meaning taxi drivers who refuse a ride or inflate a fare are liable for a $1,000 fine.

Drivers are legally obliged to use the meter, and may not refuse a rider based on their destination. Despite over 520 taxi drivers in the state having been disciplined, it seems these practices continue.

Despite keeping a receipt, I found getting a refund incredibly difficult.

The taxi company and terminal operator denied responsibility, as did the NSW taxi regulator who told me they had no power to enforce the fare order.

Only after contacting my credit card company, who for some reason had an easier time contacting the driver than the company he drove for, was I finally able to get a refund for the difference.

Regulation is in place but change is slow

The situation highlights the broader issue of ineffective regulation. It seems the current system is insufficient to deter dishonest taxi practices and the NSW government has been slow to enact meaningful reforms.

Sydney's taxi sector needs an urgent overhaul before its reputation suffers irreparable damage.

In NSW, the Point to Point Transport Commissioner must be granted responsibility for ensuring that drivers charge according to the Fares Order, and taxi companies should be legally required to provide clear breakdowns of fares on receipts.

A system should be in place for questioning fares after the fact, and other states should follow suit.

  • If you’re looking to get around a city, rideshare might be the safer (and cheaper) option – just check you aren’t on surge pricing.

  • If you notice your fare is much higher than you expected, question it immediately with the driver.

  • Paying by credit card may offer you more protection. If doing so, always check that the amount on the card terminal matches the amount on the meter, and always ask for a receipt.

  • If you do get stung and are unable to get a resolution with the taxi company, it's possible to lodge a complaint regarding any product or service with Fair Trading NSW or your local state equivalent.

  • The Australian Taxi Industry Association may also be able to help, but only if the taxi in question is a member.

  • Finally, raising a dispute with your credit card company may be the only option.

In my opinion, Sydney deserves better.

It's time the taxi industry embraced transparent pricing, customer service, and accountability. If they do not, they risk being left behind by changing technology and disillusioned customers.