Part 8: Consumer awareness and the Operator Safety Rating System

Effectiveness of controls over the taxi industry.

Consumer awareness

Authority staff expressed concern at the low level of consumer awareness of rights and obligations in relation to taxis. For example, some consumers feel they must take the first taxi waiting at a designated taxi rank, rather than choosing the taxi they prefer. The Authority does not carry out programmes to improve consumer awareness of what to expect when using a taxi. Some educational pamphlets were distributed in 1994 and 1995, but the Authority has not advised us of similar initiatives since.

Raising consumers’ awareness about their rights was an objective of the Authority’s past education efforts, and the Authority devotes considerable resource to educating the public about other land transport issues. The proposed Operator Safety Rating System also has this objective, by providing ratings for different taxi operators when the system is eventually applied to the taxi industry. In addition, under section 190(1)(g) of the Land Transport Act 1998, the Authority has the function “to promote safety in the land transport system by providing safety information and advice, and fostering safety information education programmes.”

Information describing the rights of taxi passengers is contained in an Authority fact sheet. The fact sheet is available at the premises of the Authority’s agents, but is not proactively distributed to consumers. Some staff told us that, occasionally, taxi-related stories in the media served a useful purpose in educating consumers. For example, a story appeared in the New Zealand Herald during 2004 about the different flag fall and meter charges of a range of taxi organisations, and the effect these had on the cost of a trip along particular routes.

The Authority could capitalise on the high level of public interest in taxis to educate the public about what to expect when taking a taxi. While the Authority’s Operator Safety Rating System will function as a consumer education tool, it will be several years before this is available. Such a tool would be in keeping with one of the Authority’s functions of promoting safety in the land transport system by providing safety information and advice.

Recommendation 60
We recommend that Land Transport New Zealand consider options for raising consumer awareness about what to expect from a taxi service.

The Authority could require fare schedules to be enlarged, so customers can easily view and compare fares. The CVIU, concerned about the small size of one taxi organisation’s fare schedule, raised the issue with the Authority. The Authority had a copy of the schedule on file that it had approved, but agreed to do something about it after the CVIU raised the issue.

Taxi vehicles display a notice advising passengers that they can lay complaints through the local regional office of the Authority. The notice includes the address of the regional office. Telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and website details for the Authority are not widely available to consumers. In our view, it should be easier for taxi passengers to contact the Authority in order to lay a complaint.

Recommendation 61
We recommend that Land Transport New Zealand review its provision of complaints information for taxi passengers, to ensure that it is simple and easy for consumers to lodge a complaint.

Operator Safety Rating System

The Authority has been working on the Operator Safety Rating System for some time. The objective of the rating system is to provide the public with an easy means of identifying which transport service operators have gained a low or high safety score. The score would be based on performance against set criteria (including Certificate of Fitness inspection failure rates). The system would also provide the Authority with information for targeting audit effort.

The Authority’s lack of progress with the rating system has led to it removing references to the system being “under development” from its website. Nevertheless, the Authority notes the rating system as an output within the “safety auditing” output class in the Statement of Intent 2004/2005. The Authority is seeking funding from the Government to finance the information technology that would analyse the data used to produce a taxi organisation’s safety rating.

The rating system also relies on an up-to-date register of transport service licences. Because transport service licences do not have an expiry date, they usually remain on the register. The Authority has devoted extra resources to checking all the entries and updating the register. The challenge for the Authority will be maintaining the register once it is updated. The Authority hopes to maintain the currency of the register by requiring Certificate of Fitness agents to update details on the register when a vehicle’s Certificate of Fitness is renewed.

The rating system that is currently envisaged will initially target goods service vehicles, because they have been assessed as posing the highest safety risk. While the Authority has considered a similar system for taxis, it will need to be adapted. The Authority believes that issues for taxis are about quality rather than safety. Therefore, a comparable system for taxis is some years away.

As mentioned earlier, the Authority lacks an overall mechanism for assessing risk, and is not making full use of the information it collects to target its compliance work. As well as the Authority’s proposed creation of an investigative role, implementing the rating system would help the Authority to target its audits effectively.

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