SYDNEY, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Dozens of taxi drivers have blockaded one of Melbourne's busiest bridges to protest government-proposed industry reforms.
The fleet of cars began their protest on Monday morning by driving over the Bolte Bridge, a main thoroughfare connecting the north-west suburbs to the city, during peak hour at five km an hour, causing traffic chaos.
The protest was in response to the government's decision to legalize ride-sharing services such as Uber, as well as introduce a 1.5-U.S. dollar levy on all trips made in taxis and abolish the current model of taxi licenses.
The Victorian Taxi Association said the levy was "unworkable" and said it was not the best way to compensate the industry in response to the rise of ride-sharing.
After completing their crawl across the Bolte, the protestors drove to Spring Street in the CBD where they joined other protestors on the steps on Parliament House.
The abolition of taxi licenses in particular has drawn strong criticism, with the government offering to buy current licenses back at a rate of 76,000 U.S. dollars for the first license and 38,000 U.S. dollars for the second.
Operators who own more than two licenses will not be compensated for the others.
The taxi association said license-holders should be paid 190,000 U.S. dollars for each license.
Linda De Melis said her family had been in the taxi industry for 50 years and owned six licenses.
"We're not opposing industry change, the government can dismantle the industry if they choose, but we as licence-holders should not have to pay the price," De Melis told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday.
"The government is seizing our licences for zero in return, and our licences act as assets, people derive income from them, they have loans against them.
"When fishing licences were cancelled, fishermen got a capital component for their licence. They were bought back. That's merely what we're asking for.
"We are at breaking point, people are losing their homes. It's that level of desperation that's driven us here today."
Resham Sekhon, a taxi driver for more than 30 years, said the government was stripping him of all his assets and left him with a crippling debt of around 300,000 U.S. dollars.
"I will have to sell my house, I will be homeless," Sekhon told News Limited.
"I'm a hard worker. I have worked 20 years without a holiday. I had planned to retire but I've got no hope of that now."
Sekhon, who owns two taxi licenses, said he paid more than 420,000 U.S. dollars for his licenses but they are now "worthless."
Commuters were advised to avoid the Bolte Bridge if possible on Monday morning due to the protest.
De Melis said Jacinta Allan, Victoria's Transport Minister, had been "in a frenzy" trying to prevent the protest.
She said that she acknowledged the protest would disrupt a lot of people but had given motorists ample warning to avoid the area.
"This is what we have to do to call out the government theft that is taking place with licence owners," she said.
Allan told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Monday that the protest was "reckless and irresponsible."
"Victoria Police are aware of this and will no doubt make their own decisions about how they respond but the bottom line is this is just reckless and irresponsible behavior. It's only going to hurt passengers," she said.