Taxi plan: towards customer-friendly and reliable services
After five months of intensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Brussels government has approved the Taxi plan proposed by Pascal Smet, Minister of Mobility. 'Our goals are: reliable and customer-friendly taxi services, better working conditions for the taxi drivers and higher ROI-ratios for the sector', says Mr Smet. 'At the same time, I am working on a legal framework to be applied to all parties involved, in order to eradicate unfair competition and social dumping by innovative services such as Uber. By establishing strict rules, we impose measures in terms of safety, insurance and social protection of taxi drivers.'
In order to decrease the car's dominion and to turn Brussels into a more enjoyable city, efficient and customer-friendly taxi services are needed. A reliable taxi service is the only true alternative to private cars for those moments in life when public transport is not an option. In order for the Brussels taxis to grow and become that genuine, customer-friendly alternative, the sector should be profitable and needs happy taxi drivers doing their job in good working conditions.
As Minister Smet wants to achieve these goals through a majority-backed policy, he spent the past five months listening closely to all the different parties involved. The taxi companies, the call centre operators and the drivers themselves had more than once the opportunity to express their concerns. On that basis, and in line with the objectives set, the government today has approved the Taxi plan. Over the coming months, the principles of that plan will be elaborated in further consultation with the stakeholders.
Key elements of the Taxi plan are:
- A clearer and simpler pricing policy will improve customer-friendliness in the taxi sector. So far it is virtually impossible to grab a cab in Brussels for short distances (less than three kilometres) because the taxi driver doesn't derive any benefit from it. Therefore, Smet considers the possibility of a flat rate for short journeys. He will also introduce a flat rate for journeys to the airport.
- From January 1st, 2016, each customer should have the possibility to pay with their credit card.
- All taxis in Brussels will have to connect to an app (soon to be developed) that allows customers to book their journey via a user-friendly system and that leads taxi drivers towards the customers in an easy way.
- From now on, taxis are allowed to take all free bus lanes, security permitting.
- Sharing a taxi ride will become easier. The existing Collecto system, allowing passengers to share a taxi at night, is extended to a 24/7 regime. The advantageous pricing subsidized by the Brussels Region, however, is only applied at night times. Moreover, low cost collective rides will connect the major Brussels railway stations (Central, North, South, Schuman) with the airports of Zaventem and Charleroi. Visitors to major events can share a ride from the city centre to the Heizel site and the airport.
Decent working conditions for the drivers
- Taxi driver training and the corresponding behavioural test will be evaluated and, if needed, adjusted, with a focus on customer care and resilience.
- After three years of driving without any complaints or charges, taxi drivers obtain a certificate of excellence that will be displayed in the taxi and on the smart phone app.
- The call centres will be regulated to curtail practices that are detrimental to the drivers, such as imposing prices and allocating journeys to taxis that are not Brussels-based.
- Mystery calls will be used to detect and address any racist and discriminatory practices.
Increased profitability in return for transparency
- By October 2016, each taxi should be equipped with a digital taximeter, paid for by the Region. This will lighten the drivers' administrative workload, and will ensure full transparency.
- The regional tax of EUR 575 per year will be abolished.
- Publicity will be allowed in the taxis under strict conditions.
- The Region will facilitate group purchases for vehicles, credit card readers, fuel and insurances in order to reduce the sector's overhead costs.
- The numerus clausus (1.300) will be evaluated and adapted where needed, whilst the legalisation of trade licences will be reassessed.
Technological innovations and new services
The Government will establish, in consultation with the sector, a comprehensive legal framework for all forms of paid transport, to ban unfair competition and social dumping. Thus, the taxi sector and new services will have equivalent working conditions.
As in many other cities in the world, new transport services are being offered in Brussels by private individuals through smart phone applications (e.g. Uber). Those technological innovations may lead to improved services and increased customer-friendliness and usability, yet if they are not embedded in a clear regulatory framework, they may lead to an erosion of the drivers' social protection. In the absence of a clear regulatory framework, there is a risk of services such as Uber creating mini jobs under precarious working conditions with limited wages.
To strike a balance between progress and social protection for everyone, the Government will establish a regulatory framework in which services such as Uber can operate, provided that they comply with a number of concerns in terms of safety, transparency and accountability as well as social and tax justice.
- Transport services, offered occasionally by private persons driving their own car, will be possible if the service provider has obtained prior authorization from the Region. Authorization shall only be granted once all legal conditions are fulfilled.
- It is up to the service provider to ensure that all the obligations are complied with; if he fails to do so, he will be sanctioned. A possible sanction is the withdrawal of the authorization.
- The new services will not enjoy the same privileges as the taxis (use of waiting spots, bus lanes...).
- The service provider must keep a register of all drivers and their vehicles and of all the journeys carried out. Taxi inspectors, tax inspectors and social inspectors have access to those registers.
- Drivers must be registered with the service provider, are at least 21 years of age and have obtained their driving licence at least three years ago. Each year, the service provider must verify if the driver has a certificate of good conduct.
- These transport services can never be a full-time employment to the driver. They are a spare-time activity. This way we avoid that mini jobs are being created and that people are being employed in a precarious status. Taxi drivers are allowed to drive for the new services outside their working hours.
- The service provider is responsible for customer insurance and car security (vehicles should pass a yearly technical check, and no car should be older than 7 years).
- The service provider is free to fix his prices, yet he has to communicate them in a clear and unambiguous manner to the customer. Major price differences (deviations of over 25 percent of the published tariff) require a justification.
- Customers are allowed to share journeys.
Consultation with the industry
'In the weeks to come, I will elaborate those principles in consultation with all stakeholders', said Pascal Smet. 'I am convinced that this plan will give the taxis in Brussels a viable future, focusing on customer care and a service-minded approach. At the same time, we can also guarantee that technological innovation brings real progress for all, without social dumping.'