126 years after the first modern taxi meter was invented by Wilhelm Bruhn, the challenge for regulators around the world is to arrive at the best way to determine how to charge for a cab ride.
Disruptive technological change is upending traditional taxi licensing models, and regulators are looking at rules afresh. At the three-day Global Summit of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) here, representatives of Malaysia and Singapore said they were responding to new services such as Uber and Grabcar by modernising the traditional permit system to make it easier for drivers to enter, but also working on market-friendly regulation of companies.
Malaysia integrated 13 agencies under one body, the S.P.A.D., to drive integration of public transport. One of its mandates is to change the costly, rent-seeking character of its Pajak taxi license system. Under new laws to be in place by July, drivers would be strictly screened, but helped with financing to buy a taxi from a wide range of vehicles. Dynamic fares for peak hours was accepted in the policy, said Mohamed Azharuddin Bin Mat Sah, CEO, Land Public Transport Commission. Users who faced problems with overcharging welcomed app-based services.
In Singapore, famed for its curbs on private car ownership, surge pricing is accepted under official policy, while independent private cab companies were providing service just during the peak fare periods through app-based operators, increasing supply of cabs, said Tony Heng, Managing Director of SMRT Taxis.
The amendments to the Indian Motor Vehicles Act awaiting passing by the Rajya Sabha to become law provide for licensing of taxi aggregators.
At the conference inaugural on Sunday, Moscow’s Deputy Mayor Maxim Liksutov said commuters expected better services today, and Russia’s capital was providing free Wi-Fi on its Metro trains. The facility was earlier launched on buses and trams. Moscow handles 19 million trips by various modes in a day, and is replacing its conventional buses with electric vehicles at the rate of at least 300 a year to cut pollution.
UITP president, Masaki Ogata, said public transport needed a change of mindset and innovation to meet a once-in-a-century challenge from new services that used disruptive technologies. The best example of technology adoption was that of radio, which took 38 years to reach 50 million users, to TV that took 13 years, and the Pokemon Go game 19 days, he said.
Canada’s India-born Minister for Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi told the conference that his own life as an immigrant highlighted the critical role of public transport to help people acquire an education, pursue leisure, make social connections and build a career. Mr. Sohi was a bus driver before taking up a role in local government, followed by parliamentary membership. Canada has announced an infrastructure expenditure of $ 180 billion over the next dozen years, of which $ 25 billion would be for transport projects, he said.
(The writer is at the summit on an invitation from UITP)