This is an opportunity for Ted Baillieu, the Victorian Premier, who on the 28th March 2011 instituted this Inquiry, to introduce sensible changes to the taxi industry. He deserves congratulations on this initiative, although the draft report released in July has aroused much concern from within the industry. Believing that there is still time for community discussion on the various proposals, I advance these views with some trepidation.
There is a natural cleavage of participant in the industry into
- Drivers who lack the capital to own and run their own vehicle. Operators should employ them at award determined rates when there is sufficient demand for their services. Alternatively they should be contracted as self-employed operators.
- Taxi owning operators and networks with capital and business skills to operate a small or large fleet of vehicles complying with acceptable, industry determined standards.
There should be flexibility in the provision and charging for taxi services to meet the cost of improving the standard of taxi service. For example there could be:
- The present standard, on demand, time based metered cab charge.
- A government or medical benefit subsidized rate for transporting disabled and sick patients.
- A negotiated pre-booked fare for personalised executive services based on the transport requirement not just time based charging. Such charges could take into account the cost of providing more luxurious vehicles.
- Contracted corporate rates for multiple journeys
- Concessional rates for pensioners, and other low-income people.
- An initial up front charge, or pre-paid booking fee, would lower the risk of non-payment for the taxi driver; it should also guarantee that the customer’s appointment is honoured.
- A 10% surcharge on credit card payments is not unreasonable to meet the cost of the payment system.
The demand for taxi serivces would grow with better services, and a more flexible payment schedule.
The standard of driver competence would be enhanced by introducing for new drivers, an appropriate, perhaps TAFE provided program of training that would include subjects such as English language tuition for new arrivals in Australia, instruction in driving skills, the rules of the road, vehicle care and maintenance, occupational ethics, first-aid medical training, local knowledge, and computer literacy.
A 6-12 month course of study combined with practical supervised apprenticed training could confer a certificate qualification. Once completed, the driver would qualify for the award salary rate. There should also be opportunities for ongoing driver education.
The operator should provide comfortable, purpose-built (such as the London cab) vehicles that maximize the safety of both driver and passengers.
The operator needs to provide advanced equipment for metering, payment, and documentation of fares, the booking arrangements, and vehicle servicing.
Vehicle licencing and registration, together with the insuring of vehicle, driver, passengers, and the public, are also the operators responsibility.
Any changes should preserve the present value of their taxi licence investments, with new operators having to pay for existing licences when they become available, and a limited number of new licences issued to meet increased demand.
It is too simple to accept that increasing driver and taxi numbers alone will drive taxi fares down. There is a need to grow the “pie” by providing a higher-quality and more complete service.
Only in this way will it be possible for new operators to gain entry into the market forming links with other providers..
There may still be a role for some solo owner driver-operators in the industry, but probably only in the provision of limousine services, given the spiralling capital costs in the taxi industry.
Categories: Community Issues