Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan):
I rise to speak on the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Amendment Bill 2019. I commend Mr Barton on bringing this bill to the house.
Touting involves an uninvited approach offering a service. These are often cash jobs. No meters are turned on, no recording of the transactions occur, no record of any kind is present, no-one knows who the passenger is or who the driver is. Touting is a transaction of financial loss. The State Revenue Office loses the $1 trip levy, while the passenger’s safety is at risk. Touting is a safety issue and a growing problem in Melbourne. Media reports have shown that there have been many instances where unregistered cars and drivers have shown aggressive behaviours towards passengers. Touting puts passengers under stress and makes passengers feel intimidated due to drivers’ behaviours.
Melbourne Airport has warned passengers not to get into cars with touts. There have been increased complaints of aggressive, predatory and intimidating behaviours by touts. Instances of drivers approaching women travelling alone have also been noted, particularly young women. A woman was raped by a person who was impersonating another driver last year. A 27-year-old woman was sexually assaulted after jumping into an unmarked car pulling up on Chapel Street that she thought was the Uber she had booked. Cases like this may lead to mistrust in taxi and rideshare systems. Melbourne Airport has been in the news recently regarding the touting issues the passengers are facing there daily. The number of touts has been increasing. Each day at the airport doors they are approaching passengers and asking them if they need a taxi. A Current Affair has also run a story that showed drivers grabbing bags and leading passengers out of the airport precinct and off to cars parked nearby. The problem is that we do not know who these people are. These people who are touting have no identification, their cars are unmarked, they could be unlicensed and they could be unaccredited. The passengers who get into cars with them do not know if these people are insured, if they are criminals or if they have passed a police check. These touts are compromising the safety of Victorians. Their vehicles may not be up to the required safety standards. These are all concerns that should be addressed. Many of these touts may not be meeting the Victorian regulations. These regulations are put into place so that Victorians stay safe when they are travelling and to make the airport jobs fairer. Those legitimate operators who meet all their statutory and regulatory obligations and work within the law must be protected from those who break the law. We are all aware of the dangers of getting into cars with strangers.
Ms Patten: Except Mr Finn.
Ms VAGHELA: Except Mr Finn. The government have undertaken the most comprehensive reforms to the commercial passenger vehicle industry in Victoria ever, and these reforms have been an enormous success. There are now more taxis on the road than ever before, with more than 7000 compared to less than 6000 twelve months ago. The four biggest rideshare operators in the world are now operating in Melbourne, and the cost of operating a taxi each year has fallen by $25 000, with annual licence fees now a little over $50. In 2017–18 the Victorian government established Australia’s first fully open and competitive commercial passenger vehicle industry. The reforms are a win for passengers, delivering more choice, better service and improved safety. The reforms were delivered through two sets of legislative changes. The interim taxi and hire car licensing reforms commenced on 9 October 2017. This provided for the conversion of a range of different taxi and hire car licences into one type of hire car licence and one type of taxi licence. Licensing has been replaced with a vehicle registration system with a cost of $53.80. Taxis and hire cars are now known as commercial passenger vehicles. Fares for booked services are now fully deregulated statewide. The change primarily affects fares for booked taxis. The Essential Services Commission continues to regulate the fares, but only for unbooked services in the metropolitan, urban and large regional zones. A new safety duty scheme and additional consumer protections are also in place. Victoria’s $1 levy commenced on 1 July 2018 and is being collected by the State Revenue Office. The levy means that those who benefit from the reforms are helping to cover the cost of the government’s generous assistance package. The State Revenue Office collects the levy and has provided information to businesses to help them understand their obligations. All taxi and hire car drivers must undergo rigorous background checks, including criminal history, driving and medical checks.
Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria checks drivers’ names against police data on a weekly basis. Drivers are required to display their accreditation so that passengers can easily identify them in order to lodge a complaint if necessary. And of course, all taxi or rideshare provider companies are bound by the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014. The multipurpose taxi program is an important service to support Victorians with limited mobility, and it is a critical part of ensuring our transport system is accessible to all. We are looking at the transition from the multipurpose taxi scheme to the NDIS-subsidised scheme. In regard to the Fairness Fund, $56.75 million was approved for payment to 693 applicants. The fund opened to applications in November 2016 and closed to new applications on 30 April 2017. The payments were made progressively as each application was finalised. The eligibility criteria have been set out on the application form. Special consideration will also be given to applicants with extenuating circumstances. The government originally announced $50 million for this fund but removed this cap to ensure every eligible applicant received the necessary support. One hundred and fifty-six applications were submitted by Westjustice on behalf of applicants. The independent chair of the fund, Marnie Williams, supported by a team of externally appointed auditors, assessed and considered each application before making recommendations. The then Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources supported the administration of this process. If applications were found to be missing important information, the audit team and the department worked with applicants to obtain the required information, to give them extra time to provide this information or to put them in touch with financial counselling services through Westjustice to ensure no eligible person missed out. But any reform this comprehensive deserves to be continually assessed and, where things are not working, changed. It is clear that touting has become an issue, and it is incumbent on all of us to try to find a sustainable solution to this problem. Although those on this side of the house will not be supporting this private members bill today, I note that the Minister for Public Transport said yesterday in the other place that she has been working with Mr Barton and is supportive of the move to introduce a touting offence. I note the government’s intention to work with Mr Barton and industry to ensure that we get this legislation right. Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria and the Department of Transport have held a series of round tables with industry to explore options for managing touting, including whether a touting offence would be effective. Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria continues to monitor touting activities to ensure compliance with vehicle registration and driver accreditation laws. It is critical if a touting offence is to be introduced that it addresses the shortcomings of previous touting offences, particularly in relation to practical enforcement. It should also avoid negative impacts on legitimate advertising of commercial passenger vehicle services and be understood and supported by industry.