Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, page 280 of Budget Paper No. 2, volume 1, shows that only 68 wheelchair-accessible taxis are licensed, which is down by one since 2019 20. The target for this year is that they will remain at 68. Why is this number so low?
Mr FERGUSON - Thank you, Dr Woodruff, for the very good question. That number is not the concerning number to me; although I would like as many wheelchair-accessible taxis as is their need for them and demand for them. The issue is not about the number of licences right now. Are you getting, as I am, community feedback that people are unable to get a wheelchair-accessible taxi to pick them up?
Dr WOODRUFF - Yes.
Mr FERGUSON - The real issue is the shortage of drivers, as opposed to the number of licences. May I address that point?
Dr WOODRUFF - Yes.
Mr FERGUSON - Passenger numbers increasing, but during the pandemic the industry saw a significant decline in demand for taxis. It also saw a significant number of drivers seeking a more reliable income elsewhere. A number of people from our migrant community, who were making up numbers in terms of taxi drivers, have in many cases moved from Tasmania with the border restrictions lifting, so there's been that disruption. Operators are consistently reporting a shortage of drivers. It's an estimate only, but between 15 20 per cent of taxis are sitting unused or underutilised. That includes wheelchair-accessible taxis.
The shortage is something that we want to address. To get more drivers into taxis and back on roads, we're doing what industry needs us to do, to support them. It really is something that industry itself needs to take ownership of as well. The Government is stepping in to the space and addressing some of the barriers to getting new drivers. What we have done is we're making it cheaper -
Dr WOODRUFF - Sorry, I don't understand. Could you clarify it generally; I don't understand.
The question was about licences but you're talking about the drivers. Are you saying that they're together, that they're the same thing?
Mr FERGUSON - No, I am not. I asked you if I could address the driver issue, because I asked you if I could address the real reason why people are struggling to get their wheelchair accessible taxis.
Dr WOODRUFF - Well, my question was about the licences, if you could answer that one first. I hear what you are saying, but the question was about the licence numbers dropping.
Mr FERGUSON - If you would help me understand what would you like me to address on licence numbers.
Dr WOODRUFF - The target hasn't changed since 2019 20, and the need has increased. Why is that the case, and what are you doing about it?
It is about the licences as well. The drivers is another issue.
Mr FERGUSON - Passenger Transport Manager, Mr Crane, might leap in with some more detailed advice, but the advice is that the number of licences is more or less appropriate for the needs of the community, but the problem is we have too many wheelchair accessible taxis, that are licenced, not being used. They are not being utilised.
The physical vehicles are largely there. I think there is only a small difference between the number of licences and the number of actual vehicles. I might ask Mr Crane to outline those statistics; but the real issue is the shortage of drivers. If you would like me to let you know what the Government is doing about that, I will come back, but otherwise - Mr Crane.
Mr CRANE - Through you, Deputy Premier. There is a slight difference between the number of wheelchair accessible taxi licences around the state, and the vehicles. I think it is around five, so it is around 66 licences, and that is 61 vehicles in play.
In our constant conversation with the taxi industry over recent times, the constant concern they have is a lack of drivers, and their ability to attract people to take on that role, particularly after COVID-19, where a number of drivers - older drivers, particularly - may have exited the industry.
We're very concerned about the fact that people are reporting to us, that they cannot get a timely access to a wheelchair accessible taxi, and so we are in the process of providing the Deputy Premier with some further advice on how we may seek to address that.
The vehicles numbers and licences, if they were fully utilised, I think we would have less of problem at the moment.
Dr WOODRUFF - I am glad to hear that you are talking about this to the Deputy Premier, because it's a Government obligation to the community. People with special needs can't get to places without those licences.