At the time of writing this article there can be little doubt that frustration and tension within the industry is mounting. We saw a demonstration by some industry participants held in Melbourne and outside the Premier’s electorate office in May. Neither event was particularly well attended and I believe this reflects the fact that most realise that disrupting the public by blocking streets is not the most effective way to secure a sensible outcome.
The VTA made it clear we did not support the action that was undertaken by this small group. This should not be taken to mean we don’t understand or empathise with their frustration, but rather our belief this is not a productive way to achieve the outcome our industry needs.
The protestors, led by a hire car driver purporting to represent taxi owners, apparently had a list of three key issues, opposition to the ESC recommendation of a new variable peak booking charge of up to $10, the creation of taxi share ranks and greater penalties for those that break the law. Clearly we all agree with the third. The first two, however, in no way justify blocking traffic in central Melbourne.
The ESC proposal is a recommendation for which feedback is being sought. This group, like everyone, has been invited to comment. In relation to the second issue, shared services already exist. It is important to point out that the VTA ran a share ride trial in central Melbourne some time ago. The services did not work as a result of a lack of interest from taxi users and the plan had to be abandoned. Also, CBD safe city taxi ranks, funded by the City of Melbourne, look for opportunities to facilitate cab sharing and optimize the use of the taxi fleet every weekend.
In regards to the ESC proposal, the group involved in the protest seem to fundamentally miss what this is about. The proposed charge would be discretionary up to a maximum of $10, meaning taxi companies could charge anything from $0 to $10 extra on pre-booked fares during peak times.
The VTA has been calling for more pricing independence for the industry, particularly in relation to booked work, to allow us to compete more effectively with new service providers moving forward. At this time we are still looking the ESC proposal over but fundamentally, our industry must be more competitive in the pricing market. Not just when it comes to raising prices but also allowing us to lower them during lower demand periods to attract more passengers. It is hard to achieve lower rates during low demand periods if they can’t be offset by higher prices during high demand periods. Our competitors already do this with little complaint from the public.
The ESC report really demonstrates the difficult position the industry finds itself in at this time. With no decision from Government in the ride hail space it makes it hard to clearly evaluate the costs (and their structure) we are likely to face moving forward. The time frame for responding the ESC draft report is relatively short this time round so we will have to move quickly to ensure we have an adequate response that stands the industry and our customers in good stead. By the time you are reading this, we will have achieved this.
The VTA has also been working hard to try and address issues with the Knowledge test and have made it abundantly clear to the Government that we would like to see responsibility for driver training, testing and performance management returned to the industry. I hope by the time this edition of VicTaxi goes to press we will have some good news in this space.
The Association has also been working through changes to the 2005 regulations which sunset at the end of June this year. A key goal of ours in this respect has been to strip out restrictive, burdensome and/or costly regulations which no longer serve any interest. To date I believe we have been effective in this space and taxi operators should find themselves in a better position to determine the structure of their business.
If you would like to contribute to any of the ongoing reviews and so forth please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Finally, April and May were tough months for our industry. The VTA was saddened to lose a country operator and driver, Stan Gliszczynski from Portland who passed away as the result of a car accident. The VTA was also shocked at the death of Melbourne taxi driver Mohamud Muketar. The VTA has offered our condolences on behalf of the Victorian taxi industry to Stan and Mohamud’s family, friends and long term colleagues. Both will be missed.
Chief Executive Officer