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On-Demand Passenger Transport Services Industry (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill (No 34) of 2020

Second reading speech

15 October 2020

[4.35 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, it was interesting to hear from the member for Windermere. We have had many meetings with members of the taxi industry. They have been quite distressed on many of those occasions. I recall the gentleman who shares the taxi with his wife. He wore a uniform, he was very smart, he had a very nice car. The other taxi driver who came shared with his daughter, I think it was. It was a very similar situation - he found it very difficult to make ends meet, could not do Uber because their cabs were too old, outside the regulated age. They had tried it, they thought it might have been an angle that they could do Uber as well. It certainly is hard.

I believe this bill is a start for the taxi industry. It may not be a cure-all for them. I am sure there are many things they are not happy about. But it is an important bill to consider. As I said, along with the member for Windermere, I have spoken to a number of constituents and stakeholders about the existing arrangements between established taxi and hire vehicles and the so-called ridesharing services like Uber, Ola, Sheba and Oscar that in briefings this morning we were told are currently operating in Tasmania. I am not sure about the other ones the member for Windermere mentioned, but if they are operating as well I am not surprised that it is difficult for the taxi industry.

While I have not caught an Uber or similar in Tasmania, on the mainland, drivers have told me that it is very common for them to drive for more than one service, switching between platforms. They were saying that Uber, I think it was, gave them certain concessions and rewards, and once they had reached that level, they then switched over and started using the other service that was giving other rewards. It was certainly a win-win for them.

In Victoria I was speaking to one of the Uber drivers who, as the member for Windermere said, had other jobs during the day. They would go to the nightclubs, but would not actually drink alcohol; they would simply go there and have some soft drink, whatever it might be, and they would know that at a certain time, once it was getting near closing, their services would be required and they would be on the spot, ready to go. It is certainly something that particularly young people with their phone apps can access very easily.

Ms Rattray - Savvy.

Ms ARMITAGE - Very savvy. I am sure the member for McIntyre recalls when we were at the airport with the member for Windermere, we used his credit card -

Mr Dean - I was conned.

Ms ARMITAGE - It was very handy because when we needed a rideshare, the member for Windermere, being the gentleman that he is -

Mr Dean - Ripped off.

Ms Rattray - Through you, Mr President, he is a much more travelled member than I will ever be, that is why I thought he needed it on his phone and I did not need it on mine.

Ms ARMITAGE - I was thinking, that being a gentleman, he was looking after the female companions with him and he organised, once we had set him up, a rideshare.

Mr Valentine - I would have thought a wily detective would not have been sucked in like that, but there you go.

Mr Dean - You lose it after a while.

Ms ARMITAGE - I am sure he has found it very useful to have that app on his phone.

It should also be known that while some taxidrivers may wish to also drive for Uber or similar, it is often not possible, as I mentioned earlier. Many taxis fail because of the age restrictions for Uber. The member for Windermere might recall the gentleman with his wife, they had a very nice car - I think it was a special edition - but it was outside that age range. Even though it was a luxury vehicle with leather seats, it just did not meet the Uber requirements.

It is always difficult for legislation to keep up with the rapidly changing technological advances that we have today. Services like Uber, Ola, or even Airbnb, for example, are not called disruptive technologies without reason. They literally disrupt the current market - in some cases completely changing the existing dynamics.

Disruptive technologies are all well and good, but to assume that it has a net benefit for the economy and for consumers presupposes that everyone has equal access to them. My husband certainly could not use them, because he does not have a smart phone. There are many people who do not have smart phones and do not have apps. They cannot use those, so they will always need taxis and their cabs.

Ms Rattray - I am smiling, Mr President, because I am thinking the member for Launceston might send her husband with the member for Windermere, because he has an app.

Ms ARMITAGE - Many people who currently rely upon taxis and hire vehicles, particularly our older cohorts, have neither the ability nor the means to access services like Uber or Ola, and this is made even more complicated for people who have vouchers for services like taxis only.

I recall my mother was DVA, which did not use Uber, they used taxis. If there were no taxis available - that was another issue the member for Windermere mentioned - they might call a taxi to pick them up to go from their home to the doctor, which might be a $5 fare, and they might miss a longer fare because they are doing that. They were concerned that for fares like that, perhaps there should have been a minimum charge to make it more equitable for them.

As the on-demand passenger market pushes the cost of taxis up, so their ever-increasing operating costs and profit margins can be recouped, people who rely on these services are the ones who become penalised. This is clearly a perverse outcome, and one where regulation is called for.

Integral to a properly functioning on-demand transport economy is a level playing field, and I am pleased to see that measures are being taken to this end. Lower regulatory compliance costs for existing taxi and luxury hire car licence holders, is a step in the right direction. Introducing a scheme for sharing the cost of regulation between taxi and ride-sourcing operators will go a long way towards levelling that playing field.

It has not been fair that taxi operators have been hamstrung by the quite stringent conditions under which they must operate. The rideshare services can simply come in and operate under different rules and put taxidrivers, who do play by the rules, out of business.

I also recall airports. The member for Windermere may have had the briefings I had, where I was told that while Uber drivers are not allowed, I believe, at the Launceston airport - and they were not in Victoria either - they place themselves just a short way from the actual airport building itself, so you might have to walk outside to access them, but they are not very far away. They are not actually located there on the apron. They are not nearby, but they are close enough that if you want one, you leave the actual building and you will access them on your phone and they will be there within two minutes.

It comes to playing by the rules. The taxidrivers have to play by the rules, but for the Uber drivers the rules are clearly more flexible, if there are any at all. To this end, the more flexible regulatory framework this bill introduces - including provisions for operating out of area in busy periods, and bringing consistency between wheelchair and standard fares - is a good start towards a well-functioning competitive market for taxis, hire cars and ridesharing services.

The out of service area is another one that I am sure the member for Windermere - you might not realise, we have had lots of briefings. One of our drivers had a rural area. As he said, you pick up a fare that might want you to bring them into Launceston, into the city, so they are going outside their area to come in, even though they pick them up in their own area. They cannot just drop them off at the boundary, but being in the city, they were not allowed to pick up a fare to go back, and one of them had picked up a fare and was charged and fined for doing that, which is quite ludicrous. I am pleased to see that at least in busy times they can operate out of area, but that should be a lot more flexible. If you are coming in with a fare, you should at least be able to pick up a fare to take back. If you can find one.

It is difficult enough for them. A good initiative is where travellers going in the same direction, for example at an airport, can share costs without a driver being disadvantaged by having one fare rather than two. An example this morning at briefings - and I thank the Leader and the department for those - was that the passenger getting out at the first stop would pay up to 75 per cent of the fare at that time, and the next passenger also up to 75 per cent of the final fare. Obviously a driver can offer a lower percentage, with the maximum being 75 per cent, and we were told that this could also apply to more than two passengers, up to a taxi's capacity. At least, with a shortage of taxis, if people are getting a taxi together, it would bring it in a more equitable amount of money, but the taxi is not losing totally. They are getting a reasonable amount of money. Almost one-and-a-half or two-and-a-half fares depending on how many people are in the taxi is certainly an improvement.

It is also pleasing to see 43 outstanding licenses were removed, with the bill suspending the mandatory annual release in response to industry concern. Of course, these will be ongoing measures and it is incumbent upon us as lawmakers to keep an eye on this industry and keep in touch with our constituents and stakeholders. I am sure we will hear from our constituents again.

A good market is one which has low barriers to entry and a balance of power between the participants. We want to generate competition and have a reasonable scheme for sharing the cost of regulation between the companies operating within it, not penalising or forcing certain segments of those markets to subsidise the cost of others to participate.

We do not want to penalise certain client bases of these markets either, especially those who are vulnerable and rely on services such as taxis. Many mentioned earlier would be elderly who do not have smartphones, who do not know how to use them. The member for Windermere is very savvy with his.

Mr Dean - I am

Ms ARMITAGE - My mother had a little phone and would never have handled a smart phone. She would not have understood where to get apps, and a lot of our older people do not. We cannot cut them out by excluding taxis when they cannot access Uber or any other rideshare vehicles. They rely on services such as taxis; I wonder if the federal government with its vouchers will look at some stage at not having vouchers for taxis. At the moment they are for taxis, they are simply DVA. I am not sure with other types of vouchers for disadvantaged people whether they would be taxis. Whether in the future with a lack of taxis, they might actually look at rideshare, which will be a further impost on our taxi services.

I understand this has been a very difficult bill to develop and the Government has taken on board a lot of the feedback during the consultation rounds. It is important the people who are affected by these policies are the ones who are listened to. The taxi industry support package, including the appointment of an implementation support office at the Department of State Growth and the provision of $50 000 to the Tasmanian Taxi Council to support the development of a voluntary industry code of conduct and service quality, puts power back into the hands of the operators. It allows them to manager their industry in the most effective and efficient way possible. I am pleased to note the Government has committed to continue to work with the industry to support the implementation of this bill.

I commend the Government for taking ownership of this issue and listening to the people who work in this industry. The last thing we want is market failure and the earlier we take steps to correct issues, the better it will be for the industry and ultimately consumers. We all appreciate there is a place for rideshare but there is also a place for taxis. I support the principles of this bill and look forward to seeing its implementation by the Government and the industry.

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