Taxis to retain hold on mobility subsidy

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 25/06/2014

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Taxis in the Horizons Regional Council area will continue to have a monopoly on Total Mobility services, with the regional council narrowly ruling private hire vehicles out of contention for the subsidy.

After hearing from a fleet of taxi companies and their national federation, the council yesterday voted 6-6 against accepting other operators on to the scheme, except where taxis did not adequately provide the service. Chairman Bruce Gordon used his casting vote to rule the status quo would remain.

Horizons was challenged to open up the Total Mobility scheme to competition during its draft Annual Plan consultation by companion transport service, Driving Miss Daisy.

Its director Jack Harper said the elderly and people with disabilities wanted a choice of transport options that included companionship from a familiar driver and a service beyond the fare.

After yesterday's decision, he said Horizons was out of step with almost every other region in New Zealand, where other providers had been granted access to the Total Mobility subsidy.

He was disappointed taxis would continue to enjoy a monopoly, and that people who needed extra help outside the vehicle would miss out.

In Palmerston North the 50 per cent subsidy is capped at $10, with $4 coming from regional rates, and $6 from the New Zealand Transport Agency. About 7500 people are eligible.

New Zealand Taxi Federation executive director Roger Heale said the industry was not opposed to competition. But it was concerned about opening up the scheme to anyone with a vehicle operating without a range of compliance costs and safeguards for both drivers and passengers that were compulsory for taxi companies.

The taxi companies wanted a level playing field, he said.

The extra costs taxis faced included meters, GPS systems, security cameras and alarms, log books, dispatch systems, and maintaining 24-hour, seven-days-a-week availability. They could charge only for fares for transport, measured by the meter.

Heale said if more operators were allowed into the market to "cherry pick" customers, hours and routes, taxis would struggle

While some taxi drivers said they often provided extra customer service, such as waiting for a passenger to do some shopping, helping them to their door, or escorting them to a medical appointment, they could not charge for that work.

"If we could do that, we probably would not be having this conversation," said Heale.

Horowhenua Mayor Brendan Duffy wrote on behalf of groups working to improve transport options for the district's ageing population, asking for private operators to be allowed on the Total Mobility scheme.

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He said the current situation was restrictive and reduced the choices for people with varying needs.

Horizons transport services manager Phillip Hindrup said there were potential challenges for the council in auditing and managing private vehicle drivers if they were providing Total Mobility services. The extra workload would do nothing to increase the numbers of people gaining access to the scheme.

- Manawatu Standard

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