Individuals with a disability now in a position to make use of taxi subsidy on Uber and the taxi business is nervous

The taxi industry in Victoria has raised fears that its business will be further undermined as people with disabilities are allowed to take a taxi subsidy for Uber.

Important points:

  • The multipurpose taxi program pays up to 50 percent of the fare for people with disabilities
  • The taxi industry is concerned that the move will undermine a vital source of income, especially for smaller operators
  • Disability advocates say customers, like everyone else, deserve more choice

The Multipurpose Taxi Program (MPTP) is a government subsidy that pays 50 percent of tariffs (up to $ 60) for people with disabilities to use taxis.

There is an annual limit of $ 2,180 for each passenger. It includes wheelchair users and regular taxis.

There were more than 4.7 million subsidized trips in 2019-20, which was lower than normal due to COVID-19.

The subsidy costs tens of millions of dollars each year.

Allowing people to take advantage of the Uber subsidy has been welcomed by some disability stakeholders, including Vision Australia and National Disability Services, as it gives users more choices.

“New threat” to the taxi industry

However, there are fears in the taxi industry, particularly among smaller operators, that expanding the program will undermine their businesses.

They fear that they will lose a reliable source of income and remove one of the remaining areas of trade where taxis have a competitive advantage.

Much of the day-to-day business of the Geelong Taxi Network consists of bookings for people with disabilities, said managing director Peter Valentine.

Taxis have endured years of financial pressure, and Mr. Valentine identified the expansion of the multipurpose taxi program as a new threat to the industry.

Within taxi fleets, Valentine said, wheelchair-less taxis have often helped cover the cost of wheelchair taxis, which can be $ 100,000 to set up and operate.

“If you have an operator – big or small, especially small – losing that part of their business, it means they may not be able to survive because they need less income,” Valentine said.

Mr Valentine noted that businesses outside of Melbourne are more likely to be hardest hit by the change.

The taxi subsidy pays 50 percent of the fare up to $ 60 for people with disabilities. (ABC News)

Customer nervous about the change

Taxi companies have also raised concerns about training and service standards.

Some companies warn that carpooling groups picking up people with disabilities do not provide the same level of training.

“It’s that level of trust that is our greatest concern,” said Valentine.

Many passengers have regular drivers who know and take care of their needs.

Simone Stevens has known her regular taxi driver Steve Barker for 21 years – they are both Facebook friends and talk about Footy all the time.

“I don’t want it to happen, it makes me nervous not only for myself but also for the disabled community,” said Ms. Stevens.

“We don’t know whether the drivers are regular or have travel training.”

But many stakeholders for the disabled have welcomed the change.

David Moody, CEO of National Disability Services, said support for this move was strong as taxis were unable to meet demand.

“It certainly hasn’t worked for humans until now. It hasn’t been functional. It hasn’t cut the mustard,” Moody said.

Mr Moody said they did not think there was any cause for concern about the quality of the service.

“We support more than less choice for people with disabilities, which in this case means we have the option to choose whether or not to use rideshare, just like the rest of the population,” he said.

A taxi driver wearing a mask helps secure a passenger in a wheelchair cabin.Steve Barker made friends with the wheelchair user Simone Stevens. (ABC News)

According to MP, Ubers should need video surveillance

Transport Matters Party MP Rod Barton, who used to be a taxi and rental car driver, was angry at the government’s decision because of concerns about Uber’s work practices.

He said Ubers’ profits went overseas, the company used price increases, drivers were underinsured, and Ubers didn’t have security cameras in vehicles.

“It should be mandatory that vehicles operating services under the MPTP system have cameras and fixed GPS tracking installed to reduce the likelihood of predatory behavior against our most vulnerable road users,” said Barton.

“And, more importantly, to provide irrefutable evidence when it is necessary to support allegations of wrongdoing.”

He also shared fears that wheelchair cabins could become more unaffordable for smaller operators due to a drop in sales.

“The potential reduction in MPTP work and associated revenue across the fleet will challenge the viability of many operators in offering WAV (wheelchair accessible) services,” he said.

Five Star Rating for Uber Process in Geelong

The Labor government’s decision also angered Trades Hall, which campaigned against Uber’s practices in the workplace and the lack of worker protection for drivers.

“Bad decisions like this happen when groups familiar with Uber’s business model are not consulted,” said Luke Hilakari, secretary of the trade hall.

“People with disabilities desperately need more transportation, and that should happen without the support of the state government from companies that exploit their drivers.”

A woman in a mask sits in the back of a wheelchair taxi.Simone Stevens said it was important to be able to trust her taxi driver. (ABC News)

A trial version of the program took place in Geelong last year, and 170 trips took part. Uber said all trips received a five-star rating.

An Uber spokesman said ridesharing has improved transportation access for millions of Australians.

“But until now, these benefits have not been as accessible to Australians with disabilities and accessibility needs who have access to systems like the MPTP,” he said.

“There’s just no good reason for it, especially when feedback from advocates is that for many people with accessibility, carpooling is the preferred option.”

A government spokesman said it was about helping people with accessibility and mobility needs who would need to use taxis or carpooling.

“It is important that the most vulnerable members of our society have access to services and experience the independence that this program offers,” the spokesman said.

“The expansion of this program offers more services and more options for people with disabilities.

“All Uber drivers undergo the same police, medical and driving exams as all other commercial vehicle drivers, including taxi drivers.”

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