Economy and Infrastructure Committee | Motion

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (14:26): I rise to speak on Mr Barton’s motion on the multipurpose taxi program, motion 485. The multipurpose taxi program is an important service to support Victorians. This program ensures that our transport system is accessible to all. I thank Mr Barton for bringing this motion to the Council. I also thank him for his continued advocacy for the transport industry, including the taxi industry. Before I begin my contribution, I wish to say that the government supports the motion subject to the amendment that has already been mentioned by my colleague Ms Terpstra.

The multipurpose taxi program, the MPTP, supports people with limited mobility by offering subsidised taxi fares. It is a significant part of Victorian public transport service provision. Many Victorians with disability rely on point-to-point transport services to get around. The program pays half of the cost of each taxi trip taken by its users up to $60. Additionally, a $21.20 lifting fee for wheelchair trips is paid. The program is administered by the industry regulator, Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria, CPVV. There are about 231 000 registered MPTP users, of whom around 98 000 took a trip in 2019–20.

This program is vital for people with accessibility and mobility needs which are not met by conventional public transport. Therefore we committed to improving this program. In 2017 the government committed to expanding the multipurpose taxi program to all commercial passenger vehicles. The expansion of the multipurpose taxi program has provided more options to the people. The expansion of MPTP aims to ensure the industry is accessible, safe and competitive. This has been a longstanding policy of the Andrews Labor government as a part of our wider reforms to the Victorian taxi industry. Significant work has been done to make sure that expansion is delivered carefully while maintaining appropriate levels of safety and consumer protection. Since the initial announcement about the government’s reforms, our primary focus has been safety and services for people with disability. We are also investing directly in further improving accessible services.

The Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Act 2017 established a fully open and competitive commercial passenger vehicle industry, which was an Australian first. These reforms have been a boon for passengers as there is more choice, better service and improved safety. Since the reforms were enacted passengers have seen their waiting times almost halved from 9.4 minutes in 2017–18 to 4.8 minutes in 2019–20 for conventional vehicles. The reforms were delivered through two sets of legislative changes in 2017 and 2018. The Andrews Labor government delivered a considerable $500 million industry support package to support those most impacted by the industry transition. During this time the government also cut further costs for the industry.

These reforms, along with the expansion of the multipurpose taxi program, MPTP, are widely supported by program members, industry providers and disability advocacy groups. Any booking service provider, BSP, can make an expression of interest to the regulator to offer MPTP services. There are strict data collection requirements that have to be considered. Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria has a strict multipurpose taxi program and the conditions have to be met. The expansion requires service providers to have an MPTP service offering in place. This includes payment systems, technology platforms that can integrate with CPVV’s systems and the ability for CPVV to monitor the capability within a controlled environment.

At this stage Uber is the only non-taxi provider of MPTP services. The program remains open to other interested providers. All Uber drivers are accredited by CPVV and undergo the same police, medical and driver history checks as other drivers, including taxidrivers. Uber requires its drivers to complete disability awareness education before receiving trip requests and provides a specific service, Uber Assist, that targets individuals with specific mobility requirements. While Uber’s service does not currently include wheelchair-accessible vehicles, should Uber provide wheelchair-accessible services in the future they will be subject to the same requirements as other wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

We have made sure that the safety and quality of services for people with disability remain the primary focus. Consumers should have more choice. We have a very strict standard for government subsidised programs. Safety should never be compromised when it comes to our wonderful citizens. We have made sure that there is no place for predatory behaviour, and we must ensure that there is successful prosecution against any wrongdoing.

Vehicles registered for unbooked services must carry approved CCTV cameras in metropolitan and urban areas. This requirement is set in the Commercial Passenger Industry Regulations 2018. The decision on requirements regarding security cameras was taken in 2018 following a comprehensive regulatory impact statement process. The minister released draft regulations and a regulatory impact statement for public consultation during March and April 2018 seeking feedback from the public and industry on the regulations. The new regulations commenced on 2 July 2018. Security cameras were only ever a requirement in taxis; they were not required in hire cars, reflecting the nature and occurrence of incidents in those vehicles. When developing new regulations for the industry, the department considered requiring security cameras to be installed on all commercial passenger vehicles.

In the response to the COVID-19 pandemic the government has rolled out a $22 million package of additional support to the industry, including fee relief and cleaning grants. The government has provided support to the commercial passenger vehicle industry and professional driver training industry in multiple ways during this difficult time.

Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria has implemented a range of measures to assist industry to manage the health and safety of commercial passenger vehicle drivers and passengers in relation to COVID-19. Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria has contacted booking service providers, vehicle owners and drivers directly to share advice provided by the Victorian Chief Health Officer. It continues to use social media channels and its dedicated coronavirus webpage to provide regular updates. The regulator is also holding regular video meetings with booking service providers to understand and respond to their challenges. Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria is also working with the professional driver training industry.

The commercial passenger vehicle industry have stepped up and diversified their services during the pandemic. I thank them for their service and efforts. We are committed to supporting the industry by reducing the financial pressure. The regulator has suspended all recurring fees until further notice. The regulator’s website also provides information about the financial assistance available to industry members. We have to make sure that the confidence of the passengers and drivers remains in the industry. The safety of the drivers and passengers is very important for us.

During 2020 an advisory panel comprising Mr Rod Barton and Mr Steve Dimopoulos consulted on a range of options to provide support and mitigate the adverse impact of the coronavirus on the commercial passenger vehicle industry. Based on the panel’s recommendations, the Victorian government announced on 24 July 2020 that it was investing $22 million to support the commercial passenger vehicle industry and support jobs. As part of the support package, $3.5 million was made available to subsidise increased cleaning and sanitation of vehicles. For this, the government’s support package for the industry was supported by new vehicle cleaning laws that came into effect on 18 November 2020. With that, I am going to conclude my contribution.