There are obviously a number of serious challenges facing our industry at this point in time. While it’s always hard to say which are of the most significant, it is clear the one that must be addressed immediately is the number of both available and new taxi drivers.
Although it is unclear how many new drivers have entered into the industry in the last 12 months, we know it is down dramatically from previous years. We also know that we have lost a large number of longer term drivers – this is easy to see from the numbers posted by the Taxi Services Commission each month. There are currently over 500 less active taxi drivers than there was this time last year and many operators are reporting shift coverage well below 75%. This is simply unsustainable.
So why is it happening and what can be done? There are a number of factors at play, including the emergence of illegal service providers who do not seem to worry about whether or not their drivers are accredited or have passed the Knowledge test. It is hard to argue that this factor has not had an impact. Drivers who have driven for five years or less and failed the Knowledge clearly have few other alternatives other than to push their luck in this new and illegitimate sector of the industry. New drivers face a choice – either sit this complex test to drive a taxi legitimately or take the easy option and drive for these illegitimate operations. Anyone weighing this up must consider that if caught they will face fines and possible prosecution by the regulator.
While what is occurring in the market may explain this shortage of drivers into the industry, the common dominator really appears to be the Knowledge test. Unless the Government can ensure that all who compete for the same work follow the same rules, regulatory impositions and arrangements such as this simply have to be removed or suspended until there is a resolution. By following the law and requiring our drivers to sit the Knowledge, the incumbent industry is effectively placing itself at a significant commercial disadvantage. People wishing to enter our industry now have an alternative with virtually no entry barriers. Until the playing field can be levelled, we need to be allowed to compete for drivers and we can’t do this with the Knowledge test as it stands.
This has simply become an unacceptable regulatory to the VTA and what seemed like a good idea in theory has proven to be anything but. We will be calling on the State Government to suspend the Knowledge test until the issues relating to the provision of illegal taxi services is relieved and a clear set of rules applicable to everyone are put in place and adhered to.
Measures to safeguard the community will of course need to remain including crucial background checks, medical checks and the existing monthly criminal database search. However, we are confident that taxi industry networks, operators and drivers will accept responsibility for ensuring that drivers who drive Melbourne’s taxis are of a high standard and improvements in the level of customer satisfaction over the last two years are continued.
Despite the rhetoric of many commentators, the taxi industry is happy to compete, however it must be on a level playing where all businesses in the commercial passenger vehicle market face the same costs and regulatory burdens. This is simply not the case at present.
Currently, new market entrants do not follow regulated fare structures that protect customers, allow unaccredited individuals to offer services to the public and do not adhere to the many regulatory requirements imposed on the taxi and hire car industries.