Taxi owners live off drivers

17/12/2008 10:33

Some taxi proprietors in Fiji are living on guaranteed income and expect more from consumers to increase their income at the expense of their drivers. The Council makes this statement as the Fiji Taxi Union (FTU) General Secretary Mr Rishi Ram seeks a fare increase for taxi operators at a time when diesel price has plummeted (FS 16/12). Mr Ram is justifying the proposed increase in taxi fares by attributing it to the global market prices of oil. Mr Ram has additionally decided that the Council should be ‘kicked out’ for not doing its job. He is not specific about which particular responsibility the Council has failed to deliver. In fact, it is expected of Mr Ram and other service providers and traders to gag the Council in order to continue unfair market practices that are causing consumers to dig deeper into their pockets for services not worth the amount charged to consumers.

Surely, the current fare is insufficient if there are numerous persons relying on the money generated from one taxi. The meager money generated would be expected to be divided amongst a number of people including the taxi plate owner, the individual who hires the plate, the driver of the taxi, the vehicle owner, and the base area from which the taxi operates. With at least a total of 6,130 taxi permits issued by the Land transport Authority, one can only imagine the income generated on a daily basis and the divided sum that would reach the pocket of the driver.

Further, taxi owners establish a fixed amount of return that taxi drivers are expected to hand over at the end of a business day or week. Those drivers who work on a contract basis are expected to hand over $40-50 a day to the taxi owner as his or her guaranteed income. Drivers are even expected to pay for fuel and still be able to generate enough income for their survival. Where is the fairness to the drivers in the taxi business? A fare increase clearly benefits the pockets of taxi owners and not the drivers who labour hard but receive the left over from the days takings

The Council is aware that taxi plate owners are mainly those individuals who are already in employment but look for opportunities in the taxi industry for their second income. FTU is justifying the proposed increase by expressing concern about the payment of wages, FNPF deduction and other entitlements of taxi drivers. However, given the nature of the taxi industry it will never be satisfied with the current fare. Why then should the travelling public shoulder the burden of increased fares to generate second incomes for taxi owners and the middle men  in the industry?

Moreover, an increase in taxi fare should not only be warranted by fuel prices. Rather, the Service quality, reliability and safety of taxi services should be awarded equal consideration in determining taxi fare increase. Consumers are constantly voicing their concerns and frustrations regarding the service quality, reliability and safety of some taxis. A significant number of taxis in operation are in a dilapidated state with no air conditioning, broken window or door handles, and general signs of poor maintenance. Some drivers reportedly refuse patrons desiring short runs. They failed to meet the full satisfaction of providing a patron with the desired taxi services such as driving up or down a driveway. Ultimately, it is the consumer who pays for the service. Therefore quality service that meets the expectation of the consumer has often failed to be provided by many taxi drivers and operators. The Council is of the view that taxi fare should in fact decrease due to poor service quality, unreliable and unsafe taxi services.

The Council calls on the Land Transport Authority to thoroughly study every aspect of the taxi industry when processing the proposed increase for taxi fare by the FTU.  FTU has failed to provide sufficient data on basic cost and revenue components such as average kilometers traveled is either unavailable or is based only on a limited sample of taxi operators. The lack of reliable, detailed data therefore has a range of impacts on the price regulation of the industry. For instance, it becomes difficult to properly assess the appropriateness of the current fare structure with the absence of much needed data on the distribution of trip lengths, revenue collected from contract jobs and so on. FTU and the regulatory authority should perhaps consider best possible options of collecting cost and revenue data from taxi operators for future fare reviews.