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The Role of Taxis in the Transport Sector


The Role of Taxis in the Transport Sector

Paul Swain to the New Zealand Taxi Federation: I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. In particular I’d like to thank Tim Reddish and John Taylor for their invitation. It’s great to speak to such a large organisation that represents more than half of the taxi industry.

Taxis are a key component of the passenger transport sector and are vital to ensuring all New Zealanders, including the disabled, have access to transport.

I know the previous Minister of Transport, the Hon Mark Gosche, had a good working relationship with the New Zealand Taxi Federation and I would like to build on where he left off. I look forward to beginning a dialogue with the federation and its members as the new Minister of Transport.

The taxi industry reforms of 1989 marked a watershed for the taxi industry. Prior to 1989 the number of taxis on the road was strictly controlled. The reforms ushered in an approach focussed much more on the quality of the taxi operators.

Generally the changes have brought benefits. There are now more taxis on the road and the general quality of vehicles and level of service is very good. The queues of passengers waiting for taxis, common in the 1980s, have now been replaced by queues of taxis waiting for passengers.

However the situation is not perfect and there are still issues that need to be addressed. Safety, customer service and the area knowledge of drivers are concerns and we are looking at measures to address these issues. But I want to make it clear that we have no intention of turning the clock back to the 1980s.

As the Minister of Transport, I’m aiming to improve industry standards. But I’m also looking to the industry to be pro-active and improve standards itself. Bodies such as New Zealand Taxi Federation can lead the way on this.

The LTSA is leading the work on improving the taxi industry standards. Today I’d like to go over some of these proposed changes with you. These include:

higher standards of area knowledge and English language the re-introduction of the taxi runner offence the introduction of an Operator Safety Rating System a review of the Driving Hours and Logbooks System.

I am proposing to introduce the Land Transport Amendment Bill into Parliament next year to cover the proposed changes.

The Big Picture

Before I talk about these taxi industry issues, I would like to give you a brief overview of some of the other things going on in the transport portfolio.

In the Growth and Innovation Framework, released by government earlier this year, the government set itself the goal of lifting New Zealand back into the top half of the OECD. Transport will have a huge role to play in achieving that. However it’s important that this growth be sustainable. Growth at any cost is not the answer, and we must ensure that the decisions we make today do not impose costs on, or reduce opportunities for the future.

The ‘Moving Forward’ package, announced in February, put extra funding into the land transport system to ensure that key projects that will assist us with growth could proceed.

Underlying a lot of the work in the transport portfolio will be the New Zealand Transport Strategy, which I intend to release before Christmas. The strategy will provide direction and strategic leadership across all modes of transport. It represents a fundamental change in thinking as it is the first time all the modes of transport will be looked at as a whole and in an integrated way.

I also intend to introduce into Parliament before Christmas new legislation to change the way land transport projects are funded. The Land Transport Management Bill will increase the flexibility of funding arrangements and will enable Transfund NZ to fund a wider range of organisations. The bill will also provide a framework for a generic tolling regime and allow for public sector / private sector partnerships as a means of building new transport infrastructure. Private investment in land transport projects is common in many countries, including Australia.

Road safety is another important area I will be focussing on this term. Last year there were 455 road fatalities, compared with 650 in 1991. These figures show we’re on the right track but there’s still room for improvement. The government is determined to cut the road toll further and has set itself a target of no more than 300 fatalities by 2010. The first step towards this goal will be to reduce fatalities to no more than 400 by 2004.

Last week, together with Police Minister George Hawkins, I announced a $22 million package of road safety initiatives aimed at helping us reach these goals. Some of the major initiatives include more money to tackle rural drink driving, a pilot programme to test potential changes to the graduated driver licensing system for novice drivers, road safety education programmes for primary and intermediate schools and a range of spending to ensure new roading projects are designed with safety in mind.

As you can see it’s a busy time in transport. But now I would like to return to some matters closer to your own hearts.

Area Knowledge and English Language Review

Many of you will be aware that the LTSA has reviewed the testing of area knowledge and English language. This is an issue I am serious about improving.

The review focussed on metropolitan centres, which is where the problems of limited area knowledge and poor English are the greatest. The aim of the review was to improve enforcement standards and reflect overseas practice. The New Zealand Taxi Federation has met with the LTSA to discuss the review and has indicated its general agreement with the review’s overall direction.

The industry has indicated that lack of area knowledge and English language is a significant problem. I am pleased to announce that we have already made progress on this issue. As a result of the review the LTSA has introduced a new area knowledge test, which is available from today. The new test toughens up English language and area knowledge requirements.

A number of NZ Taxi Federation suggestions were taken on board and included in the new test. These are a higher oral component (to test language skills), a greater emphasis on map reading and a section on devising alternate routes with more emphasis on buildings and city facilities.

A secondary issue is that testing of area knowledge and English language is open to fraudulent practices because some test providers have a vested interest in the result.

The current system places the onus on taxi companies to monitor and test knowledge. The industry was of the view that there needs to be a strengthening of the existing rules. The LTSA is investigating both regulatory and non-regulatory measures to improve taxi driver standards. I notice in your magazine that the federation is concerned that the LTSA may not have the appropriate resources to monitor the examination providers. In response to that let me just say that the LTSA is committed to increasing the number of audits of test providers it undertakes.

The review of the Transport Service Licensing System also looked to increase the accountability of taxi companies by introducing penalties for failing to comply with legal requirements. This will ensure taxi companies are held responsible for the knowledge levels of their drivers.

Taxi Runner Offence

The government is committed to legislation to make non-payment of a taxi fare an offence. The so-called “taxi runner offence” was withdrawn from legislation in the late 1980s and the industry has actively sought to have it reinstated as a preventative measure. Currently, taxi-running is covered by generic theft laws but it is difficult to prove intent.

It is anticipated that the taxi runner offence will act as a deterrent for fare evaders and will give taxi operators the support for demanding payment for their work.

Industry feedback on this issue has been extremely positive. Other passenger transport services, for example the bus and rail industries, have also indicated interest in implementing this offence.

Re-introducing the taxi runner offence will come under the umbrella of the Land Transport Amendment Bill, to be introduced next year.

Operator Safety Rating System

Taxi groups have approached the LTSA and Police with concerns about the lack of targeted enforcement and monitoring of the safety performance of operators. The safety risk profile of operators is based on several sources of information, each of which is considered in isolation. At the moment information, relating to taxi operators, crashes and vehicle inspections for example, is not being shared effectively. To address this issue, the LTSA has proposed that an Operator Safety Rating System be introduced to rate the safety performance of all operators, including freight, bus, taxis etc. Under the proposed system individual drivers and/or transport companies would be assigned an overall rating based on objective data collected over a 12-month period such as crash involvement, transport-related convictions of drivers and operators, pass/fail rates of vehicle inspections and the outcome of Police stops. The suggested ratings are: Unsatisfactory, Conditional, Satisfactory and Superior. It is proposed that operators who receive an “unsatisfactory” rating would be suspended from operating for 28 days and then rated again. This could also apply to an entire company. The safety ratings might affect how often an operator would need to renew a Certificate of Fitness. For example operators with an unsatisfactory rating might have to renew their Certificate of Fitness every three months, instead of the mandatory six months. On the other hand operators with a Superior rating might only have to renew their certificate of Fitness every twelve months It is also proposed to hold the safety ratings of operators on the LTSA national register of transport services licence holders and make these publicly available. This will allow the public to make an informed choice of what taxi company to use based on its operator safety rating. There has been positive feedback on the proposed rating system from the wider transport industry, including the NZ Taxi Federation.

There is still some work to do on this proposal, including what legislative changes will be needed. But it’s a first step and a positive approach towards improving the safety and performance of taxi operators.

David Wright of the LTSA will go into more detail on this in his presentation.

Driving Hours and Logbooks Review

The LTSA has just completed a comprehensive review of the Driving Hours and Logbooks system. The review involved a lot of consultation, including in-depth discussions with the taxi industry.

The review recommends a number of changes to the system, many of which will benefit the taxi industry.

The proposed changes include: a simplification of the system by redefining “on-duty and “drive-time” to “work-time” - this will reduce confusion for drivers who are required to allocate their hours using three different categories. a reset of the 24 hour clock after 10 hours of continuous rest, removing the confusion over when you’re allowed to restart work an extension of the rest period from 9 hours to 10 hours an extension of the work period before a regulated break is required from 5 ½ hours to 7 hours.

These initiatives are aimed at improving safety by giving drivers more rest between shifts. The review also recognised alternative management schemes as a means to manage driving hours so companies would be able to come up with their own driving hour management systems. However these systems would need to be approved by the LTSA.

Fit and proper person test

It is the government’s intention to continue with the fit and proper person test. This test, which ensures that no one with a serious criminal record or serious traffic offences can drive a taxi, is specified in the Transport Services Licensing Act.

The test is a key component of the qualitative measures in place to ensure the safety of the travelling public. An important aspect of the test is the regular assessment, which evaluates a driver’s suitability.

Currently the fit and proper person test is the last test in the taxi driver application process. I am aware that if someone fails the test they would already have spent a considerable amount of money on the previous tests and would be unable to recover this money. This does seem odd and I have asked officials to look into this matter to see if we can get a more sensible solution.

The LTSA will continue to evaluate and monitor the use and effectiveness of the test. I am firmly in support of such tests as I believe that only fit and proper people should be driving our taxis.

Other Issues

An issue that I am concerned about is the number of taxi drivers that do not have a current photo ID card, do not display it prominently or display someone elses. I have come across this myself and frankly am not happy about it. The LTSA informs me that there are more public complaints about this than about a lack of area knowledge and English language.

As representatives of reputable organisations I see it as your responsibility that drivers have photo ID cards and display them at all times. I am keen for the industry to do more to improve this situation. From today I will be monitoring the number of complaints about this and hope to be able to report that there has been progress on the issue next time I speak to you.

Finally I know that another of your concerns is the upcoming review of the Total Mobility System. My colleague the Minister for Disability Issues Ruth Dyson, will speak about this when she addresses the conference later today.

Conclusion

It’s a busy time ahead for this government and I look forward to the challenges it brings.

The government is committed to address taxi industry issues such as safety, customer service and area knowledge. These changes will benefit both the traveling public and the taxi industry.

The New Zealand Taxi Federation is a key player in the provision of public transport in New Zealand and I look forward to an active working relationship with the federation. I would be happy to meet and discuss issues with key taxi federation representatives following this conference.

Thank you again for inviting me here to speak with you today.

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