Over the next two years, the current licencing regime for taxis, hire cars and ride share services in Victoria will be scrapped. All existing licenses will be removed, as will the knowledge test. In its place will be a new system of "industry accountability".
A $378 million fund will be available to existing drivers to help with the transition to the new system, which is being partially funded by a $2 per trip levy. That's right, Victorians, you'll soon be paying two dollars extra a ride.
Other changes include accredited drivers with the Taxi Services Commission required to pass police, medical and driving history checks along with all drivers being subject to ongoing criminal data matching. The Government says it will work with Victoria Police "to ensure the continued safety of all passengers".
Only providers with cameras and fare meters, among other "stringent requirements" will be able to use rank and hail work.
The Government will draft legislation to be introduced into Parliament this year which will reduce the hire car licencing fee to zero. A second piece of legislation will be introduced into Parliament next year which will enable the long term reform.
A $75 million "Fairness Fund" will also provide targeted support to those experiencing immediate financial hardship as a result of the changes.
The Government says these changes "will open the door for more ridesharing and taxi services to hit the road and drive innovation, to provide more choice and better services for passengers".
Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews says "This is a comprehensive and fair transformation of taxi and hire car services, which responds to new technology that is changing the way people travel."
"We're levelling the playing field for the whole industry while ensuring consumers have safe and reliable access to transport services," he adds.
$25 million of the "Fairness Fund" will go towards improving access to transport for people with a disability, and there will be a dedicated Commissioner for disability services to the Taxi Services Commission role created — an Australian first.
"For Victorians that have a disability Taxis are often their only means of transport which is why we’re ensuring with these reforms that they will have more choice and funding support than ever before," The Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan said.
Andrew Skelton, Chief Executive Officer at Cabcharge — which has 33 wheelchair and two conventional licences in Victoria with a total carrying value of $6,760,000 — has commented on the announcement, stating "Until now, the taxi industry in Victoria has been complying with a significant weight of regulatory requirements while ridesharing has been allowed to operate illegally".
"We hope this new regulation will be the start of creating a fairer environment for all industry participants."
Skelton says the compensation package outlined by the minister is "quite inadequate, but may go some way to help those individuals who will now face considerable losses through the devaluation of government-issued taxi licence plates".
While compensation for plate owners is imperative, Skelton says "it's fundamentally unfair" that Victorian passengers will be made to subsidise what is essentially the government's decision and responsibility.
"The Victorian Government has an obligation to taxi licence holders, because people either bought the plates from the Government or bought them on the secondary market on the basis that the Government would not undermine their value," Mr Skelton said.
He goes on to say the assertion that plate compensation packages are for industry is "misleading".
"Cabcharge holds fewer than 3 per cent of the taxi plate licences issued in Australia. Most licence holders are "mum and dad" investors who have purchased taxi licence plates either to operate a taxi business in their local community or to establish some retirement savings. These investments typically form a large portion of their retirement capital," Mr Skelton said.
The Government says it will continue to consult closely with industry participants on the details of industry transition, accreditation and safety requirements, and the implementation of the levy.