My question is to Minister Pulford representing the Minister for Transport.
Across the country, we are seeing the provision of wheelchair accessible vehicles reduce rapidly.
Recently, WA Taxi Operators in Broome and Geraldton have closed or reduced their services. This has left entire communities without one wheelchair accessible vehicle, WAVS.
Here, we are seeing financial hardship for those who are operating WAVs. One operator in the Geelong region was due to replace 6 vehicles at more than 100 grand each, has decided not to replace these vehicles.
Another operator in Timboon has parked their WAV in a backyard that is now rusting away leaving that community with no WAV.
We have an operator in Bendigo whose WAV was involved in an accident and he is asking himself if he should replace that vehicle.
So, I ask-
Does the Minister support a safe regulated industry that operates on a level playing field?
I ask the Minister, what does a level playing field look like?
A written response was ordered for both the substantive and supplementary questions. Written response received:
The Victorian Government supports a safe and regulated commercial passenger vehicle industry, and as members will be aware, establishing a level playing field was a key objective driving the Government’s industry reforms implemented over 2017 and 2018.
Those reforms significantly lowered the cost to enter the CPV industry, with annual licence fees for taxis abolished, which reduced the cost of operating a wheelchair accessible vehicle by around $19,000 per year. On top of this, TAC premiums were reduced by around $2,000 per annum, and the lifting fee provided to operators was increased from $16.70 per trip to the now $21.20 per trip today, after the Government injected $25 million to support accessible services. As a result of these significant reduction in costs to enter this market and the higher lifting fee, we have seen a significant increase in the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles in Victoria, from 636 prior to the reforms to 975 as of 30 June 2021. There has also been a significant reduction in waiting times, from an average of 26.9 minutes in 2017-18 to 10.1 minutes in 2019-20.
To support operators throughout the pandemic, the Multi Purpose Taxi Program subsidy was increased from 50 to 70 percent, and the wheelchair lifting fee was doubled, for four and half months, providing critical additional revenue to the taxi and wheelchair accessible sector of over $8.5 million during this period. In addition, the Government provided over $4.5 million in depot fee subsidies to operators who pay depot fees to BSPs that have wheelchair accessible vehicles. Crucially, these measures mitigated any significant reduction in the Victoria’s wheelchair accessible vehicle fleet during 2020.
Going forward, we are injecting a further $20 million over the next four years to maintain the lifting fee at its current post-reform level and continue to provide up-front subsidies for replacement wheelchair accessible vehicles via CPVV’s subsidy scheme. I am informed that this scheme is regularly being accessed by operators in regional Victoria to replace the vehicles that reach end of life, with 18 capital subsidies provided to 11 taxi operators in 2021 so far, at a cost of $720,000. Indeed, CPVV recently approved recently approved applications for 8 subsidies under this program for replacement WAVs in the Geelong region.
I have also reconvened the CPV Advisory Panel, consisting of Mr Barton and Mr Steve Dimopolous, to provide me with advice to support the CPV industry in its continued road to recovery following the COVID pandemic, respond to the issues and challenges facing the CPV industry, and identify opportunities to improve regulation in a way that supports improved user outcomes and the long-term economic viability of the CPV industry. I am sure these discussions can focus specifically on areas of most concern, such as how the Government can continue to improve the way wheelchair accessible services are delivered in Victoria, to further improve on the positive outcomes we have already seen in the past few years.