MELBOURNE’S taxi service has hit an all-time high, with customer satisfaction setting a record of 72 per cent.
Taxi Services Commission chair Graeme Samuel said the worst taxi drivers were being deliberately weeded out.
“It’s those that don’t care, they’re just not preparing themselves, or they’re just unsuitable,” Mr Samuel said.
But he said data showed standards were improving overall. The Andrews government’s budget papers this week revealed public satisfaction with taxis is at 72 per cent, the highest since approval rates began to be measured six years ago.
The figure is also nine points higher than it was when the former Baillieu government launched its major inquiry into the taxi industry, which sparked the major reforms.
But the improvement has come with serious consequences for several hundred drivers, who have been stripped of their accreditation for repeatedly failing the new Knowledge test, which judges a driver’s geographical knowledge, behavioural standards and customer service skills.
The number of Melbourne cab drivers who have passed the Knowledge test has soared, from single figures late last year to 775 by May 1. A further 200 drivers are expected to attain the Knowledge in the next week, the Taxi Services Commission said, bringing the overall number close to 1000.
But 723 drivers who failed multiple attempts to attain the Knowledge have been stripped of their licence to drive a cab in Melbourne. Drivers must wait three months before they are allowed to sit the Knowledge test again, and remain free to operate in country areas.
Mr Samuel pointed to the emergence of the distinctive Silver Cabs service and the lime-green CABiT brand, which offers a five per cent discount on standard fares, as a visible mark of improving quality.
“So we’re starting to see a real distinction between networks and people will start to get the sense that if I go with this network, I’m likely to get a better driver and a better, cleaner car,” he said.
But Mr Samuel said the taxi industry was vulnerable to ride-share service UberX, which on Friday cut its fares by 15 per cent in an aggressive grab for a bigger slice of market share.
UberX is “illegal”, Mr Samuel said, but also popular with many people, and the state government faced a difficult decision between banning the ride-share service or regulating it.
UberX is a smartphone app that pairs riders with registered “partner drivers” who use their own vehicles as informal hire cars.
Industry group the Victorian Taxi Association said Uber’s 15 per cent fare cut was “a desperate move to gain market share and shows Victorians are rejecting this illegal business model”.
A survey of 1200 Victorians, commissioned by the association, found just 6 per cent had used Uber since its Melbourne launch 12 months ago.
Association chief executive David Samuel said UberX’s 15 per cent fare cut was only affordable by breaking regulations that require a hire car to be accredited for a $40,000 fee.
“The only reason that Uber can afford to drop prices for their illegal ride-sharing service UberX is because they choose to disregard regulation which imposes cost on legitimate commercial passenger vehicle services including licensing and accreditation, commercial insurance and workcover policies,” he said.