Despite the ongoing travel restrictions we are all facing both locally and globally, the delayed international UITP Taxi and Ride-hailing Digital Conference took place virtually this month.
The event brought together leading names in the industry over a two-day conference between 2-3 December. The online event provided an excellent opportunity to gain knowledge and learn about smart solutions with leading taxi experts from across the world.
Throughout the sessions, which covered topics from local and international regulation to how the industry will respond post-COVID, there were several key takeaways for taxi drivers and operators to digest.
There was an underlining tone throughout the conference that COVID had accelerated trends, but not created many new ones. Taxi drivers and operators were warned to shift with the times, focussing on key areas such as digitalisation, electrification, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and integrating services around other modes of public services (MaaS).
There was also an understanding that the industry had been heavily hit financially during 2020, predominantly due to the coronavirus.
Mohamed Mezghani, Secretary General of UITP (International Association of Public Transport), summed up the impact of the pandemic in the opening session of the conference, saying: “Transport service providers, including taxi and ride-hailing players are suffering major losses owing to the multiple lockdowns and subsequent low demands.
“I read a report recently published by the BBC on the state of the iconic and highly popular black cabs of London. It outlined the situation with some regrettable examples. Some taxi service companies are reporting a drop from 95% occupancy rate to just 10%. Cab rental firms have had to hire fields and car parks to store unused vehicles. Desperate drivers are selling off their cabs well below the market value to get through the next months.
“This is not what anyone would have predicted for a service that is an integral part of the city’s DNA, and a business that was considered a successful one.
“This crisis has made the essential role played by taxi and ride hailing services clear to us. They provided vital transportation services to front-line staff. They ensured that cities remained moving for those who needed it during these severe times.
“While most activities in the city had been suspended, these transportation services continued to operate to serve those who have no other mobility choice and the healthcare personnel.
“For example, in Singapore, Grab partnered with the city authorities to provide rides to doctors and hospital staff.
“Not only are these services being used to get from one place to another safely, in cities like New York, taxi services are also being used to provide meals to homeless people. It is not just about mobility… but about serving people.”
“Another point made clear by the crisis, is that public transportation services, including taxi and ride hailing, are undervalued. Though there is a consensus about its essential role, the sector hasn’t received the needed financial and institutional aid.
“UITP advocates on behalf of its members, and the sector in general, on the need for major funding mechanisms that will assist the sector with the extensive losses accumulated.”
During the same opening keynote speech Dr. Anja Kaeller, Legal Officer for Mobility and Transport European Commission, spoke about what the industry must now focus on as it exits the constraints placed upon it as a result of the pandemic.
Dr Kaeller highlighted the need for the international taxi and ride-hailing industry to work towards complimenting public transport offerings. That includes the rise of cycling, walking and scooting. Using advancing technology the industry should also be challenging efficiency and reducing the number of ‘dead miles’ each cabbie drives.
There was also a strong acceptance that taxis and ride-sharing vehicles were to lead the way in electrifying the road network.
One of the most interesting questions which resonated throughout many of the sessions and which certainly struck a chord with us here at TaxiPoint was how does the industry and individual cab drivers ensure they stay relevant to the communities they serve in a transitioning transport landscape.