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On-Demand Passenger Transport Services Industry (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Tags: Legislation, Transport

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, the On Demand Passenger Transport Services Industry (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2020 represents a very significant change for the on-demand passenger transport system in Tasmania. I note that the term 'level playing field' was used frequently throughout the minister's speech but, as Ms Dow pointed out, the playing field has not been level since the introduction of ride-sharing platforms in Tasmania. It has taken some four years for parliament to be presented with a legislative framework that is agnostic in many ways about whether it is a taxi or a luxury hire vehicle or one of the three or four ride-sharing alternatives that are on offer and are increasingly being taken up particularly by young people. I guess this is a situation where the market steamed ahead of a parliament's capacity to have some provisions and protections in place, and to answer an economic philosophical question about whether you should provide extra support to an existing industry when you have a disruptive element come into that industry.

The point that Ms Dow made about the Government's incapacity apparently, to properly regulate short-stay accommodation is in contrast to this legislation.

The Greens will be supporting this legislation, it does have fairness at its heart. Even though we had the briefing yesterday - and thank you to the departmental officers for the briefing - I am not certain how the ride sharing organisations will respond to this legislative approach. It certainly is a heavier hand on Uber, Ola and the other ride-sharing platforms, than has been in place to date. To a significant extent, the legislation is designed to ensure the ongoing viability of the taxi industry in Tasmania.

The legislation amends three acts: the Economic Regulator Act; the Passenger Transport Services Act; and the Taxi and Hire Vehicles Industry Act. It acknowledges that the arrival of Uber, particularly, in 2016 changed everything for the taxi industry in Tasmania. When I was going through the legislation I was reminded of taking the kids to Greece in 2015, one year after Uber had arrived in Greece, and particularly in the capital, Athens. We got off the aircraft and stepped out of the airport and there were Uber vehicles everywhere. Across from the exit to the airport there were three large carparks full of bright yellow taxis, hundreds and hundreds, because of an epic regulatory failure on the part of the government of Greece to apply any sort of hand to intervene to protect taxi drivers. We chose to take a taxi into town. The driver talked about how bordering on the impossible it was to make a living out of his taxi. He was an owner-operator and he was not sure how he was going to be able to feed his kids as all his money was sunk into that vehicle.

We have to have a system that respects the investment that people have made in taxi licences, but also the capacity, which this bill ensures, to make sure that the market to the greatest extent possible has a measure of equilibrium about it. We need to acknowledge that for taxi drivers and ride-sharing drivers alike, if you are not the owner-operator of the vehicle there is significant capacity for low pay and very exploitative conditions. For many new arrivals in Tasmania being able to drive a taxi or an Uber vehicle has provided a critical lifeline of income. As we apply a regulatory approach to the industry we need to look out for drivers particularly, because the capacity is there for significant exploitation and for those who are in what is called the 'gig' economy who are largely unprotected.

The most significant change in the legislation is that it will allow for the charging of annual fees against accreditation, which to date has been based on whether an operator has a taxi licence. We are also interested in understanding what the time frame is for the regulations that are to be introduced. In the minister's contribution he twice referred to regulations that will be stepped-out and said that the Government would be working with industry to develop those regulations. It is important for people who work in the whole on-demand passenger transport industry to have certainty about when a number of the changes that are provided for in this legislation will come into effect.

The bill resets the passenger transport system in Tasmania since the entry of ride-sharing. Until now, it has not been a fair and reasonable system. We have had two sets of standards where taxis have had to be fully regulated and accredited, but ridesharing drivers and operators have largely been let off the hook.

Drivers and vehicles have been registered with an ancillary certificate. They have had to have a working with vulnerable people registration as they should, as do taxi drivers, and have provided a criminal history.

The legislation will ensure the accreditation of ridesharing platforms. I understand from the briefing yesterday that there are four rideshare companies that are operating currently in Tasmania: Uber, Ola, and Shebah which is for women, a really important service. I know someone who was sexually assaulted in an Uber vehicle having arrived home after drinking in town. That person is now very wary about travelling on Uber. There is also the ridesharing service, Oscar, which services regional areas. All of these platforms will now have to become accredited in order to operate in Tasmania.

Given that the legislation extends for five years, but four years from now the restriction on the issuing or making available of new taxi licences - other than in circumstances where it is recognised there is a gap in the market, or a dead spot, or a need that is not being met - it raises the question: will there be any restrictions on new ridesharing vehicles coming into the system on the accreditation of Uber and other ridesharing platforms?

The legislation introduces annual fees for ridesharing services based on the number of vehicles. It introduces increased vehicle requirements and standards and the introduction of the same level of inspection as taxis. This raises another question for the minister. Is there going to be expanded resourcing for that inspectorate work to take place given that, I think, there about 603 taxi licences in Tasmania? We do not know how many ridesharing vehicles have been accredited but it would be good to understand what has happened there in the resourcing for inspections of ridesharing vehicles.

Also, I note that in the legislation there is provision for a chain of safety responsibility. A party in the chain of responsibility for an on-demand passenger service includes an accredited operator of the service, a relevant responsible person, or an accredited operator of the service. An affiliated operator in relation to a booking service provider, who is an accredited operator in relation to the service. A driver of the vehicle used for the provision of the service and a registered operator for a vehicle used in the provision of the service. It is unclear to me, although it may be described in here, where the weight of responsibility sits. Does it sit with the owner of the service and the vehicle, or does it sit with the driver who drives, whether it is Uber or a taxi, part-time, on weekends, to supplement his studies at the university and feed his children? How is that weighted, that level of safety, responsibility?

It is pleasing to see that the legal lifespan for a wheelchair accessible taxi will be increased from 10 years to 12 years. I share Ms Dow's concerns about those parts of Tasmania where there are no wheelchair accessible taxis. It is an area where, and particularly given the new provisions in this legislation, and the powers of the economic regulator, it is somewhere where you could have some direct intervention and support in order to ensure there are wheelchair-accessible taxis in remote and regional areas, particularly where the level of disability and chronic disease can be very high relative to more urbanised areas. It is my understanding that the legislation does not apply the moratorium on the delivery or availability of new taxi licences to wheelchair-accessible taxis and the need for new licences in that space.

The legislation removes what has to be described as an anachronistic capacity for taxi drivers to charge 10 per cent on top of their fare if it is being paid for with a credit card, and the trade-off for the industry as I understand it has been to remove the 10 per cent surcharge capacity but lift fares in the taxi industry by 5 per cent. It is my understanding that there has not been a fare increase for the industry for the past seven years, so I gather the last person to oversee an increase in taxi fares was the then minister for sustainable transport, Mr McKim.

Regarding the other elements that are relevant to the taxi industry, the reserve prices will be set by the Tasmanian Economic Regulator and are not to decrease by any more than 10 per cent per year for five years, starting this year. There will be lower regulatory and compliance costs for existing taxi and luxury hire car licence holders. The framework will recognise that fares might be shared by users, allowing there to be multiple hirers for taxis in a single trip. It levels the field by introducing the sharing of costs of regulation between taxis and ride-sourcing operators, provides a more flexible regulatory framework which includes improvements such as providing for operating out of area in busy periods with a temporary licence, and consistency between wheelchair-accessible and standard fares.

The amendments to the Economic Regulator Act provide for other matters that are to be considered by the regulator in determining fee structures and they are very good improvements. Is the minister considering another referral to the regulator, or does that body of work that was done in 2016 suffice, or is there more recent work that I am not aware of? Is there likely to be a referral to the regulator that is strengthened in relation to what it considers by the new provisions in new section 45A in the Economic Regulator Act?

I am particularly interested in hearing more details on the safety provisions in the legislation and how they are balanced. New section 33J talks about the safety duty of a registered operator of a vehicle used in the provision of an on-demand passenger service to take reasonable care, to comply and to cooperate. Again, what are the inspections and the monitoring of safety compliance? What provisions will be in place and resources into that area? Is there a grade of safety duty that does not place an unreasonable burden on a largely casualised driving workforce, for those who are not owner-operators?

I will wind up by making a point about the vulnerability of the workforce if they are not owner-operators. We had a circumstance on the mainland recently where a taxi driver was contagious with COVID-19 and continued to drive their taxi, which is a frightening prospect for people who do not have their own car or regularly travel in on-demand passenger services. It points to how marginal this industry is for many people who are in it, and even for those who have invested heavily in a vehicle licence. It is still a really marginal way to make a living. I am not making excuses for the driver who potentially infected dozens if not hundreds of people, but we should recognise that we are dealing with a cohort of people who require workplace health and safety protections and some level of income protection, because I am sure many of them have very small superannuation balances.

There is a decision here to remove the cost of a luxury vehicle licence from $5000 to $0 over five years. Perhaps, minister, you could tell us the rationale behind that decision? Would it also be possible to detail to the House any information you have on existing areas where there are no taxi services, and what the approach will be now that we have this capacity to map out a better picture where the services are available? Will the Government, the regulator and/or the department be directly enabling more services in an area where the map identifies that there is a dead spot or a lack of transport access? That goes to the inequity that people living in rural and regional Tasmania often face in terms of community services.

On the whole, Madam Deputy Speaker, we think it is a good, clear bill. It is well laid out and the logic behind it is strong. We need to have a system in place that is agnostic about whether it is a taxi, an Uber, an Ola or an Oscar, and it is on that basis and also the basis of the support that the legislation has broadly from the industry that we will be supporting the bill.