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Anyone can be a cabbie – new law transforms Finnish taxi trade

A historical Transport Services Act brings several sweeping changes to how taxis are used in Finland.

Kuvituskuva
The way taxis are used in Finland will never be the same again. Image: Tanja Ylitalo / Yle Uutisgrafiikka

A new Act on Transport Services brought into effect on Sunday grants dramatically expanded possibilities for taxi drivers and their customers alike, more broadly than ever before.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications says the Act is meant to directly benefit taxi users in the age of rapid digitalisation.

"The aim of the project is to support new service models and to better meet the needs of users," the Ministry writes. "Further aims are to review the transport system as a whole, make market access easier and promote the interoperability of the different parts of the transport system."

What this means exactly can be summed up as a few main developments.

Varying cost

In future the price of a cab ride will depend on the company or provider in question, as the Transport Services Act opens up pricing for competition. That means that henceforth taxi journeys may come cheaper – or not.

Comparing the prices of different taxi services is now up to the customer alone. Operators may raise their fares during busy hours such as weekend nights, so comparing companies via smart phone while waiting for a ride will likely increase.

Due to this new spectrum of prices, taxi drivers must inform their customers of their policy before the trip begins, either verbally or with a visible sticker or other notice, physical or digital. Fare counters will no longer be required in taxi vehicles.

Some taxi operators such as Hannu Aho, boss of the main regional taxi service in Satakunta, are still unsure how the new competition will manifest in late night cab queues.

"We don't have any answers or any roadmaps for any of this," Aho says. "We just have to wait and see."

Taksi.
the yellow TAKSI-sign is instantly recognisable. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

App boom, geographical freedom

While you can still call yourself a cab in the future, too, most companies will be actively moving towards and further developing digital software as their main platform. The peer-to-peer ridesharing company Uber will be returning in force, with a mobile app being the only way to contact a driver.

There are about a dozen different taxi applications currently on the market, with many more available in the capital region than in smaller municipalities. Different applications vary in their services and pricing.

Previously taxi drivers were restricted geographically to a so-called patrol area defined by the location of the taxi station. With this duty withdrawn, cabbies may roam all of Finland as they please, as long as their license is up to date.

More out-of-the-way parts of the country may feel the effects of this new freedom, as drivers may opt to seek higher profits in busier places. Service providers recommend that customers in smaller localities pre-order their taxi trips.

The Helsinki-Vantaa Airport will also see a clear change, as its single taxi lane will expand to four, all right next to the main exits. Three of the four lanes are reserved for certain taxi companies chosen through competitive bidding, and the fourth is free game for the rest.

Airports can be true gold mines for cab companies, with 300-400 trips taken per hour during peak traffic.

Qualifications loosened

The Ministry of Transport's outline for the new Act includes "moving from training requirements to knowledge requirements"; this effectively means that anyone with a driver's license and no severe criminal record who passes a driving test may become a driver for a taxi company.

A person who works as an Uber driver or operates a service using their own car will need to acquire a taxi operating license. This new kind of permit was not available in advance; instead new drivers can fill out the license application beginning on 1 July. However, getting such a license will be much easier than before, as the number of taxi permits issued is no longer restricted.

Unit chief Kimmo Pylväs from the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (Trafi) says that applications may effectively be processed in a single day. Applicants receive their permits by mail.

"People can apply for licenses starting Sunday afternoon, and we will be granting the first new ones first thing Monday," Pylväs says.

Trafi has taken on more personnel to deal with the initial rush of applications.

The deregulation also means that any road-worthy vehicle with at least three wheels may now be used as a taxi. The familiar yellow light on the roof of most taxis is also no longer required, although it is recommended due to being instantly recognisable and granting the right to utilise taxi stations and lanes.

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