Copyright Janette Hartz-Karp - 16 March 2011
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TAXI INDUSTRY FORUM

TAXI INDUSTRY FORUM
26 February 2003

The Issue

The National Competition Council (NCC) indicated that the taxi system was uncompetitive and as a result wanted to deregulate the taxi industry. It asked the State Government to report on progress towards deregulation. The Minister for Planning and Infrastructure was concerned that deregulation had many potential problems, both for consumers and drivers, but she was required to respond to the NCC.

The specific issue of buyback of taxi plates was a prime concern. Buyback is the re-purchasing of taxi plates by the Government at a price. While buyback had always been considered as part of deregulation, this did not have to be the case. In the Minister's view, buyback could deliver significant long-term benefits to the taxi industry without the negative impacts that deregulation would bring. She noted that while buyback needed to be deliberated, so too did the question of what regulatory system should be put in place post buyback.

Additional issues that needed consideration included:

  • Improving the understanding of customer needs;
  • Improving specialised services;
  • Industry funding and structure;
  • Driver and passenger safety and training.

To enable informed deliberation of these issues, it was determined to hold a Taxi Forum of industry and consumer representatives.

The Methodology
Consensus Forum

The Consensus Forum is a democratic process to engage all key stakeholders in the development of policy and input to the decision making process. The key issues are explored using 'open book' information. Opportunities are given to thoroughly understand different viewpoints and to deliberate in small groups. The focus is on the search for common ground. The findings become integral to the decision making process.

The Process

Steering Group
Purpose
  • To oversee the consultation process to ensure it is representative, transparent and fair;
  • To ensure proportional representation at the forum;
  • To ensure the outcomes of the Forum are represented fairly in the next steps forward.
Participation

Representation was from customers, taxi dispatch services, owners/investors, owner/drivers, drivers - unrestricted, peak period, wheelchair and non-metropolitan, and the Transport Workers Union. The Minister's Parliamentary Secretary was the chair.

Taxi Forum

Purpose
  • To elicit the views of the taxi industry on competition policy and industry structure;
  • To determine the areas where consensus can be achieved and a way to move forward;
  • To develop focal points for further industry feedback.
Participation

Just over 100 key stakeholders participated in the Forum. The major industry stakeholder groups, including major consumer groups as well as regulators, were asked to nominate representatives to attend the forum. In addition, taxi drivers and taxi plate owners were selected on a random sample basis from the Department for Planning and Infrastructure's databases, and were invited to the Forum. The Steering Group had the task of ensuring balanced participation from each of the stakeholder groups.

Expected Outcomes

The expressed outcome expected was: "to contribute to the future of the taxi industry by providing fair returns to drivers and owner drivers, while offering the public an efficient, economical and safe service". The Minister indicated that the focus in identifying any future changes to the industry was to ensure that there was clear public benefit in any change.

The Forum was deemed to be the start of the process. To ensure the public interest was fully represented, the Government committed to undertake a survey of all interested parties. The outcomes of the Forum would form the basis for the questions in the industry wide survey.

Forum Agenda

Following the Minister's address, there were introductions at the small tables, with each person stating their name, the group they represented and the outcome they wanted from the day. The facilitators wrote the key expected outcome themes from the table and reported to the plenary.

Participants had been placed purposefully at tables to ensure there was a thorough mix of stakeholders. The next exercise, empathetic listening, was to understand the positions of the others at the table. There were at least three voices to listen to and understand - taxi drivers, taxi owners, and community users . Each stakeholder group had to describe the issues and concerns of the other until the other indicated that their issues had been understood.

To ensure the key issues under deliberation were understood, there were four presentations. These were followed by an opportunity to question the panel of presenters. Presentations included:

  • National Competition Council position;
  • Treasury position;
  • Taxi Council presentation;
  • The Northern Territory experience of taxi plate buyback and its relevance to WA.

The following activity, station rounds, was used to determine potential options for different issues, as well as the extent of agreement with each of the options proposed. In total, there were 14 stations, each with an issue to be addressed.

The issues had been developed through a series of stakeholder negotiations. At the Forum, each issue was described and Forum participants had the opportunity to change the wording, add or delete issues.

The final list of station issues were as follows:

  1. If Government were to proceed with purchasing taxi plates at a price (buyback), how should a fair price be determined? What should the government offer?
  2. If Government were to proceed with purchasing taxi plates, then after buyback, how should we regulate to cap licenses, who gets priority, what types etc?
  3. If Government does not proceed with purchasing taxi plates (buyback), what ways could greater competition, customer service, and driver returns be achieved?
  4. How could Government address other passenger transport industries encroaching on 'taxi industry' business?
  5. How could Driver/Owner/User/Taxi Dispatch Service disputes best be handled?
  6. How could Government achieve and sustain the most appropriate taxi driver entry standards?
  7. How could Government achieve and sustain the highest standard of taxi industry customer service?
  8. How could taxi industry viability be improved?
  9. How could Government achieve and sustain the highest standard in service to the outer areas?
  10. How could Government achieve and sustain the highest standard in service in the peak periods? (If additional peak periods - what are solutions/compensation for transferable plates and MPT plates)
  11. How could taxi driver & owner incomes be improved? (noting costs)
  12. How could Government achieve and sustain the highest standard in servicing people with disabilities?
  13. How could additional release of taxi plates be determined - how many and what type? (and what price, to whom, what time limit)
  14. What issues need to be considered in getting a review group to move ahead with the outcomes of this Forum?

Small groups proceeded from one station to the next. A scribe remained at each station throughout the activity to describe the options to each oncoming group. At each station, the small group brainstormed options and determined whether or not they could live with the options previously written by other groups.

Since there were too many stations for the teams to visit, after 5 rounds, groups could choose which additional stations they wanted to visit. During the final round, each individual could choose one more station where individually, they could submit their views. At the close of the session, scribes read out those items that had the greatest consensus.

Proposed Follow-up

  • Establishment of a Reference Group including representatives from industry and consumers to help guide the process of the review;
  • The Reference Group terms of reference were be based on the Forum's consensus suggestions;
  • Similar Forums would be repeated in country areas throughout Western Australia;
  • The Reference Group was expected to submit a Report and recommendations to the Minister by May 2003;
  • The Minister would make a final decision about the way forward;
  • All participants would be informed of the decisions.

Learnings

This was a highly emotive issue. Given rumours of potential 'gate-crashers' and disturbance of proceedings, police were stationed at the door and only invited participants were allowed into the Forum. As it happened, the police were not needed. Although the day began very emotively, by the time everyone had participated in the empathetic listening activity, the mood in the room shifted to serious deliberation.

The station rounds activity was a helpful method to seriously engage in finding options and examining potential trade-offs. Ideally there should have been fewer issues, ie stations, so each group could have had the opportunity to contribute to each issue. However, the participants did not indicate that this was of particular concern to them. It had been a long day of concentration and deliberation, and no doubt they did not want to extend it further.

Although a number of participants were wary of the results and remained cynical about the political motives, overall, there was a feeling of hope that at least their views had been heard and taken seriously.

More positively, the taxi forum did show that people with very disparate views can move beyond the emotion, can understand each other better, and can find the good will to work together on mutually beneficial solutions.

The learning from the metropolitan forum was invaluable for the Departmental staff to continue with the forums in the regions. After the lead facilitator helped with the first of the Regional Taxi Forums, Departmental staff then ran the remainder most successfully, without any outside assistance.