The head of Victoria’s peak body for taxis has confirmed that the body will redirect its energies away from a long-running campaign against ride-sharing service Uber, focusing instead on reviewing the industry's services.
Speaking with The Guardian this week, Victorian Taxi Association chief executive, David Samuel, said that in the face of growing competition, taxi services must do more to hear and respond to the needs of its customers.
“In 2015, if we’re not providing a service people want to use, then the amount of competition will see our industry decline,” Samuel told The Guardian.
His statement marks a major change in the industry’s approach to Uber’s UberX service, which it maintains is an illegal service that threatens the livelihood of taxi drivers by avoiding costly regulations.
Recent months have seen taxi drivers and their supporters rallying outside parliament offices around the country to protest against Uber and the unlevel playing field that has made it difficult for taxi services to compete.
Samuel said that the Association does not promote industrial action, although individuals and supporters - such as Victorian Taxi Families, established in 2013 to fight taxi industry deregulation - will ultimately make their own choices.
Samuel told The Guardian that, despite the legal issues, the industry has not responded well to the challenge and must also look inward.
Samuel said that there is one formal complaint made for every 7500 taxi trips in Victoria. He said that there has been “a failure” to properly address concerns and service issues.
“We must make sure there’s a platform for people to share their concerns, and we expect criticism,” he told The Guardian.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has promised to address the situation.
"Clearly, we can't have a situation where people are purchasing a service where there's not proper regulation, insurance, accreditation, simple things like complaints processes, lost property, security," Andrews said in September, in response to protesting taxi drivers.
"The good standing of people who hold themselves out as an Uber driver. All of these things need to be dealt with."
Andrews said that the Uber technology, which allows users to hail an Uber vehicle, rate the driver and automatically pay their fare all from the one mobile phone app, is a new challenge that demands proper consideration.
"This is new, it is complex in some areas and it needs to be done properly," he said.
He urged drivers to consider the community perception of their frustration and actions.
"I'd just respectfully say to taxi drivers today, you know there'll be a lot of people using Uber today because of the action they've taken.
"I don't think it suits their purposes."
At the time, Uber responded to the protests by reminding drivers that the taxi industry has “kept drivers’ wages low and working conditions poor for decades” before it entered the arena.
The ACT remains the only jurisdiction to make the UberX service legal, although most are actively reviewing options for regulation.
Photo credit, top of article: Victorian Taxi Association.