By ANDY PARKS firstname.lastname@example.org
A FORMER taxi driver who tried to seize control of Lismore's taxi service will not be allowed near the radio control base or a Lismore taxi rank for two years.
Steven Johnson was in Lismore Local Court yesterday to answer five apprehended violence orders brought against him by three%directors of Lismore Cabs, the wife of a director, and by another%member of the taxi co-op.
They claimed Mr Johnson came to their houses in the early hours of the morning and made threats against them.
Mr Johnson accepted the claims and Magistrate Nick Reimer ordered he not make further contact with the complainants for two years.
The case goes back to early November when Mr Johnson placed an advertisement in The Northern Star announcing he was starting a new taxi service for Lismore called First Class Cabs.
The ad claimed the service would begin at the end of January, 2008, with a fleet of six 'blood red' Holden Commodore sedans.
Taxi licences are tightly controlled by the NSW Ministry of Transport and there are 28 taxi 'plates' issued for Lismore, 22 of x which are run by Lismore Cabs. The other six are currently shelved.
Each plate has a commercial value of about $300,000.
Lismore Cabs is operated as a co-operative where the owners of the plates all have a share in the business.
Mr Johnson hoped he could convince more than half of the plate owners to leave Lismore Cabs and work with him, to form a new company.
"The whole reason I'm doing this is to get those six cars back on the road for the public. For elderly women and people who want to get a cab on Saturday night; they're the people I'm trying to help," he said.
In his efforts to start the new company Mr Johnson contacted the owners of the taxi plates to convince them of his plan.
He claimed he could reduce operating cost by running the call centre from his home with a laptop computer and mobile phone.
He called a number of meetings with owners and drivers and tried to lobby their support by phoning them. The Northern Star spoke to a driver who described the plan as 'delusional'.
A statement from the Ministry of Transport said: "Mr Johnson has not lodged an application for network authorisation nor, as far as can be ascertained, has he been in contact with the Ministry to discuss this possibility."
One of the complainants, Lismore Cabs chairman Doug Lawrence, described the whole incident as 'a bit sad'.
"I hope it's over. I hope he gets on with his life and I hope we can, too," he said.
Another of the directors, Graham Casey, agreed: "When he first came to work for us as a driver he seemed like a reliable sort of person that you could count on. But then he started thinking he could run the company and wanted to take over."