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Private car firm unhappy at exclusion

By Zaryd Wilson

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New Zealand Taxi Federation and private vehicle-hire company Driving Miss Daisy say they are putting client care first in a battle that has a commercial interest for both sides.

This week the Horizons Regional Council voted not to include private hire (PH) companies as part of its Total Mobility Scheme, with taxi companies retaining a monopoly.

It was contentious though, with councillors split six votes each way before chairman Bruce Gordon's casting vote.

The Total Mobility scheme provides half-price taxi travel for people whose ability to use public transport is impaired. It operates in five towns within the Horizons Region and has approximately 7500 users. In towns without a taxi service, private hire is included in the scheme. Private hire companies such as Driving Miss Daisy, which began operating in Wanganui this year, operate similarly to taxis but don't have to meet the same criteria and do not run meters like approved taxi organisations (ATOs).

Horizons received two submissions to its annual plan to include PH in the scheme.

Driving Miss Daisy director Jack Harper was one of them and said he was disappointed Horizons had declined the request.

"To be honest it's disappointing for the elderly and disabled people in the Horizons region," he said.

"For us commercially we carry on operating, that doesn't change."

Mr Harper said PH companies offered more personal care than taxis.

"There are some things they just won't do and that's what the Total Mobility Scheme is for."

"In other situations the ATOs will be absolutely fine."

Mr Harper said with the Horizons transport plan due next year he would endeavour to get it back on the agenda.

"This isn't going away, this is just the beginning. There is absolutely no way in a million years we should sit back and just accept it. Why would 10 other regional councils welcome this service with open arms and Horizons not."

But New Zealand Taxi Federation executive director Roger Heale argued ATOs offered a better service.

"There is no evidence they provide a better service," Mr Heale said.

He said taxi services used GPS tracking, had cameras and a dispatch service making for a safer service.

He also argued that the hoops ATOs had to jump through would put them on an uneven playing field.

Mr Heale acknowledge there would be a financial impact on taxis if private hire companies were let into the scheme.

"Its a competitive market, our concerns remain."

Age Concern Wanganui assess people eligible for the scheme and manager Tracey Lynn said allowing private hire companies into the scheme was a good idea.

"For us it's about people being able to choose and Driving Miss Daisy would have just offered a choice," Ms Lynn said.

"It is a little bit different, it can be quite personal.

"We support any transport options that will help anybody because transport is one of reasons for people's loneliness and isolation."

Mr Gordon, who ultimately had the decision in his own hands said the current model was the most efficient the inclusion of PH would increase administrative costs.

"As a regional council our role is to provide affordable, accessible public transport to the people of our region, not to fund companionship services," he said.

"Private hire vehicles are not allowed to run a meter, making it difficult to determine where the cost of transport stops and the cost of companionship begins."

Mr Gordon said the decision could be reviewed when the Regional Public Transport Plan came up for review.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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