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TAXI DRIVERS DIVIDED: Should extras, run-ins and booking fees be ADDED to the metered price?

Cabbies are DIVIDED over whether licensed taxi drivers should be able to charge extras on top of the metered fare.

As demand for both taxis and private hire vehicle (PHV) services increases, the contentious option to charge customers more than base rate fares to guarantee them a vehicle, splits the sector in two.

The PHV sector, most notably the global app operators, have used the model of ‘surge charging’ for several years when the service demand outweighs the supply of vehicles available. Being unregulated they have more flexibility to charge what they like, when they like. It’s then up to their customers to accept the price or look for alternative transport instead.

But what do licensed taxis do during extreme demand? On the street and on taxi ranks the passenger only ever pays the metered fare. Tariffs are already set to encourage cabbies to earn more when demand is traditionally higher at the weekends or later at night. It’s a trusted long- standing system that works for both the driver and passenger when it comes to hailing a taxi.

Away from the street, on taxi hailing apps and account platforms, it’s different. Because the price can be advertised to the passenger before the booking is confirmed, extras have been added for several years.

According to a short online poll it was 50/50 as to whether licensed taxi drivers should charge for extras. This included ‘run-ins’, booking fees and priority fees, but the poll excluded airport drop-off and pick-up fees as an extra.

In the 1990’s, radio circuits who held accounts with most of the big multi-million-pound companies operating would charge ‘run-in’ fees on top of the metered price to secure a taxi for its employees. It was a way of hailing the nearest taxi remotely which drivers at the time welcomed and companies were willing to use when required.

The method of charging passengers the cost of the ‘run- in’ has all but gone in the UK, but it is still used in other European countries to this day.

Since the introduction of ride- hailing apps in the early 2010’s ‘run-in’ fees were removed in a bid to compete with cut-price fares being offered by newcomers like Uber. Instead, taxi companies were forced to offer fixed price fares BELOW the estimated meter cost to win account work.

Fast forward to post-pandemic and demand for licensed taxi services has returned. Black cab booking apps have seen a surge in demand. Gett recorded over 17,000 uncovered jobs in one week as taxi drivers struggled to cover demand across the capital. It is also worth noting that fixed price fares have now been dropped.

FREE NOW introduced reward schemes to entice taxi drivers to cover more work on their platform too. However, with street work busy, the option of paying no app fees and running no dead-miles to the pick-up destination could mean operators may continue to struggle for driver coverage digitally.

So how can taxi operators ensure those that need a black cab, get a black cab? In recent years Gett have introduced a ‘Tech’ fee, which is essentially a booking fee, to be paid on top of the metered fare during times of high demand. The fee, which is capped up to £13, allows customers and drivers the option to pay or receive the fee for a priority booking.

And here lies the big point of contention because obviously some passengers who regularly use the black cab service and see themselves as loyal customers are unwilling to pay more to prioritise themselves a cab. It’s also worth remembering that many customers ARE willing to pay a booking fee.

The same goes for taxi drivers working on the platform too. Some are comfortable receiving the extra payment, some less so.

Could app firms offer the CHOICE of paying a booking fee to ease the worries of those concerned? For example, those customers that are not willing to pay the extra will enter the platform as normal in search for a driver willing to accept the job. If after a few seconds there are no drivers around, maybe that’s when the passenger could be prompted to encourage a taxi driver as a priority?

The street hail and metered pricing should never change. It’s a regulated price based on the IMMEDIATE booking of a service that protects both the driver and passenger. However, what happens BEFORE the passenger enters the taxi and how that passenger locates the cab is still very much up for discussion.


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