Many people in Finland are eligible to take advantage of state-funded taxi rides in order to get to places they need to go like school, doctor's appointments and other destinations. But the system is about to change. Finland is set to roll out reforms to its taxi industry laws on 1 July.
From that point onwards, only taxi agencies which have won regional bids will be able to provide taxi rides to people funded by the Finnish Social Insurance Institution (Kela).
Many taxi entrepreneurs fear that Kela's new rules requiring drivers to join taxi agencies will cut their earnings by up to 30 percent. Last year, Kela sponsored taxi rides worth 153 million euros.
The rules have upset some taxi drivers who say the agencies would pay them too little, making their efforts unprofitable. Yle was contacted by several drivers complaining that Pro Keskus, which handles Kela-sponsored rides across a large section of Finland, has pressured drivers to sign contracts.
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According to the drivers, the contracts would result in a 20-30 percent drop in earnings due to smaller fares, provisions and equipment rental costs.
In Northern Savo, where a large number of taxi rides are paid for by Kela, drivers have refused to sign up with Pro Keskus. Rauno Hynynen, a taxi entrepreneur in Sonkajärvi, says joining the agency would mean higher costs and less compensation for him.
“The conditions in these contracts are like from 20 years ago, so for me to take on Kela rides is not worthwhile anymore,” he says.
New system is here to stay
Moreover, many taxi entrepreneurs in Northern Karelia said they think Pro Keskus will be unable to handle all the Kela-subsidised fares due to a lack of vehicles and drivers.
Jarmo Immonen from Pro Keskus disagrees.
“As soon as we have enough staff and cars, we will be able to get the patients where they need to go,” he says.
In the same vein, Anne Giss from Kela says there is no going back to the old system.
“From 1 July, Pro Keskus will handle the rides [in Northern Karelia], and if they need to, they are allowed to hire drivers from elsewhere in Finland too.”
Pro Keskus won the bids to handle Kela-subsidised rides in five regions, making the Kuopio-based agency the largest provider of such rides in Finland. Overall, the company expects to process and carry out some 650,000 rides per year.
The Finnish Taxi Drivers Association expects some taxi entrepreneurs to quit as a result of lower earnings. On the other hand, some drivers will make more money.
"On the whole, we estimate that turnover in this business will grow,” Jari Kuusniemi from Hämeen Taksiyrittäjät ry says.