Finns Party Chair Timo Soini responded to Transport Minister Anne Berner’s press conference on Monday with a heated blog entry, reiterating his party’s opposition to the deregulation of the taxi industry in Finland. He added that the plan had no chance of going forward as is.
His party’s parliamentary chair Sampo Terho echoed his objection, adding that Minister Berner was acting without the support of his populist Finns Party and thus, without the full consent of the government in not only the taxi market proposals, but also her proposals to consolidate the country's transport networks into one single entity.
“We have committed only to the principle that the idea (incorporation of transport routes) can be further explored. We have by no means committed to this reform being implemented during this governmental term,” Terho said.
He says there are still too many unanswered questions about things such as technical implementation. For example, Minister Berner stated in the press conference that the new proposed state-owned corporation would be funded by customer charges, according to use, instead of the current system of taxes and fees.
“The motorists shouldn’t be bled dry, but there’s also the matter of people’s privacy to consider. The costs of driving can’t go up because the state is using the road network as a source of income,” Terho continued.
He said the Finns Party is exasperated by Minister Berner’s high-handed behaviour.
“Reforms like this must be agreed upon mutually, preferably already in the government’s official programmes. But even after that, it should still be a unanimous decision,” he said.
Opposition condemns consolidation
Finland’s opposition parties also commented on the Centre Party minister’s proposal Monday.
Social Democratic Party Chair Antti Rinne said Transport Minister Anne Berner’s plans to consolidate the country’s transport routes into one company would lead Finland down the path towards a market-driven society.
Left Alliance head Paavo Arhinmäki wrote on Twitter: “You don’t have to look any farther than Stockholm or Tallinn to see that freeing up taxi pricing is not in the best interests of the customer.” He finished his tweet with the hashtag: #scam.
Greens Chair Ville Niinistö has no love for plans to consolidate Finland’s road, railways and sea routes either, tweeting that it will weaken democracy and increase costs. He said decisions about the fate of national property fall under the mandate of parliament and political decision-makers.
Niinistö also points out that the Finnish state as owner has access to loans at a much lower interest rate than separate companies. He does however throw his support behind Berner’s plan to liberalise the taxi industry and encourage more digital services.
Taxi union predicts unstable market
The Finnish Taxi Owners Federation represents 80 percent of taxi entrepreneurs in the country. Managing Director of the federation Timo Koskinen responded to Monday’s proposals by raising his concerns that freeing up the market will increase price volatility in the taxi market. He says there are no guarantees that a free market will keep prices within reasonable limits.
“If there’s plenty of supply and poor demand, the prices will fall, but the opposite is also true. Some customers will end up paying plenty more for the service,” he says.
The ministry proposed that taxis no longer be required to wait for their customers at certain stations, making it possible for them to pick up passengers at any location. Koskinen fears this change would erode or even eliminate taxi services in sparsely populated areas.
“I don’t really understand how the change would provide savings in any way, but maybe that’s not the intention,” Koskinen says.
Uber: 10,000 euros income too low
Berner also outlined her ministry’s proposal to open up the taxi market to small-scale passenger and cargo transport operators earning less than 10,000 euros a year, by letting them operate without an official permit.
Director of Uber’s Finnish operations Joel Järvinen appreciates the clear invitation the ministry is extending to ride-sharing services like his own.
“We welcome the fact that the minister has taken the initiative to take regulation issues and ride-sharing services better into consideration in Finland.”
The proposed 10,000-euro turnover ceiling Järvinen dismisses as far too low, however, to exploit the “full potential” of the service.