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Finland’s taxi drivers bracing for reform rollout in July

Finland's taxi industry is about to undergo the biggest changes it's possibly ever experienced: deregulation and the introduction of a competitive market.

Takseja ja taksikuskeja rautatieaseman edustalla Helsingissä.
File photo of taxi stand in downtown Helsinki. Image: Jarno Kuusinen / AOP

Taxi drivers and cab companies are wondering how upcoming deregulation of the taxi industry will end up affecting their businesses.

Some of their worries include questions like: what will happen when Uber returns to Finland after being unceremoniously banished last summer? Will Estonian or Swedish taxi cabs arrive to steal their customers? Will there be enough customers for the new taxi options?

Some customers are also wondering about what changes the reforms could bring. One thing is certain, at least according to capital city taxi driver Kaj-Erik Selenius, who said "the Helsinki taxi business is going to be like the Wild West this summer."

"But things should calm down after a while. Gold diggers who arrive in their moped cars and vans to drive taxis will definitely see there's no gold mine in driving a taxi in Finland," Selenius predicted.

He drives for Kovanen, one of the larger taxi firms in town, and said the major taxi companies are not very threatened by the coming reforms.

Competition, more drivers

In July Finland's heavily-regulated taxi market will be liberalised and opened up to competition. Fares and prices will change, along with how cabs can be summoned by customers and the market will see relaxed rules on obtaining taxi drivers' licences. Earlier rules on fare limits, cars and drivers will also vanish.

A major concern that Selenius said cab drivers are discussing are questions about the basic ground rules in the industry.

"How will tax officials keep an eye on income when taxi fares are paid online to drivers who are operating their own vehicles?" Selenius asked. "Will we all be playing by the same rules?"

Selenius said he has heard that some Estonian taxi firms plan to come to Finland when the rules are relaxed, but said they were still just rumours.

He said the reforms will likely change the situation for taxi drivers in Finland's bigger cities the most, such as the Helsinki region, Tampere, Turku and maybe Oulu.

"The changes won't have such a big impact in Joensuu or Seinäjoki," he said.

Surge pricing to be the norm

Selenius also suspects that taxi fares will rise as demand increases, saying that a journey which costs between 25-30 euros during the week could cost some 60 euros on the weekend.

He also encouraged customers to be both critical and careful as they traverse new options on the taxi scene.

"Customers will still be able to order a taxi via an app," he said, but encouraged customers to choose dependable firms, saying that the price of a trip should not always be a customer's deciding factor.

The reforms will also increase the number of those who will be able to obtain a taxi drivers' licence, which has some older drivers thinking of retiring early, Selenius said.

"If the number of taxis in Helsinki doubles from 1,500 to 3,000, there will be less [fares] for everyone and the future [of the industry] does not look very good," he said, noting that he doubts Transport Minister Anne Berner's assertion that lower prices would bring enough additional customers to make a real difference.

During the run-up to the major changes, some taxi firms have invested in advertisements and signage on their cars in order to clearly show customers who is behind the wheel.

Before the scheduled deregulation of the industry takes place, it hadn't really mattered which particular company was providing rides because pricing and services were virtually identical across the board.

But on 1 July that will all change.

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