The problems with taxi services in the Riga International Airport (RIX) have caused quite an uproar in the public domain. Many believe that the image of Latvia is severely damaged in the eyes of foreign tourists; others emphasize the chaos and the supervising authorities’ inability to regulate the industry. What is the cause of the current situation and the negative opinion of the public, and how to solve the issues concerning taxi services in RIX?
Significant changes began in the autumn of 2017 after a ruling by the Supreme Court, pursuant to which RIX had to grant all taxi companies equal access to RIX territory. Before this, the airport had established its own system on regulating parking and location of taxis that directly favoured two particular taxi companies. The Court ruled that, taking into consideration that the municipality of Marupe had not legally established a dedicated taxi zone in the RIX territory, the airport was not authorized to create one on its own. The ruling stipulated that RIX had to remove the parking barrier that limits the access to the arrivals’ terminal or the so-called “Golden Mile”. The consequences of the ruling are quite the opposite to the initial intentions – RIX, the largest airport in the Baltics, is now earning a reputation for the inaccessibility of taxis, severely inflated and inadequate taxi fares, disappointed tourists and a damaged image of the country. It is obvious that the airport is in dire need of change to clean up this mess. Riga is not the only city on the map of the planet which has faced similar problems, and there is a lot to learn from the solutions implemented in other countries.
The experience of other countries
By examining the steps taken by other countries in situations similar to this, it can be concluded that it appears relatively easy to solve these problems. We can take as an example the approaches and models used by airports of bigger countries with a passenger count much larger than the one of RIX. The Zaventem Airport, Brussels requires taxi service providers to acquire special licenses to operate in the airport’s territory; while in Paris, the Charles de Gaulle Airport requires taxi drivers to have a permit and limits the amount of times a particular taxi cab can enter the territory of the airport in a given day. To acquire the “airport permit”, the taxi drivers have to meet several criteria, which include the driver’s seniority, absence of penalty points, the model year and the fuel-consumption rating of the car. Considering that airports might very well be the easiest source of income for taxi drivers and seeing how arriving tourists are frequently scammed, why not create such standards of safety and quality?
In Arlanda Airport, Stockholm such licenses do not exist, but a rotation system is used that is governed by an independent company, which assesses the capabilities of taxi companies to provide services up to certain standards. If a taxi company confirms that it can meet certain criteria, it is then contracted and its cabs are allowed to enter the territory. This solution is similar to the “airport permit” system, but it allows a stronger control. One of the most interesting demands of the Arlanda Airport is the assessment of a car’s “eco-friendliness”, which directly impacts the waiting time in the queue. This means that an electric car has a priority over others to provide services. A similar approach is used in the Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam where a taxi cab must be registered in a dedicated registry and meet certain requirements, and the registry oversees the cabs’ compliance with the requirements. The Budapest Airport initiated a public procurement where the winner of the contest is granted a right to provide taxi services in the airport for five years.
Recently a new regulation was passed for the Helsinki Airport pursuant to which, instead of one lane, four taxi lanes have been created and the arriving passengers can see the taxi fares for each company on dedicated screens. Depending on the company, the initial charge ranges from 8,50 to 12 EUR, while the price per kilometre ranges from 1,39 to 1,55 EUR. But, if a flat rate is chosen, on Mondays a trip from the airport to the city centre will cost between 39 and 43 EUR. Right now the fourth lane remains unoccupied, which is dedicated to independent operators, for example, Taxify or other similar service providers.
In many European airports a price ceiling has been created, which simplifies the lives of service providers and clients. It can be observed that the level of competition is maintained considerably high. The approaches discussed above have hit a good balance, creating acceptable conditions for both the clients and taxi drivers. But it must be highlighted that the way to finding the balance is not the same for everyone, and each country has dedicated a substantial amount of time to identify the possible risks to competition that are or may be caused by each of the solutions. The work group of the Ministry of Transport, which has been presented with the Ministry of Economics’ proposals for solving the taxi problems, must pay significant attention to possible risks related to prevention, restriction or distortion of competition. Any potential requirements for the taxi companies must be objective, reasonable, adequate, as well as based on the principles of fair competition. The work group must also evade overregulation, which could cause the monopolization or overinflation of prices for the service. Careless tipping of the scales to one side or the other could cause artificial and unfounded limitations to competition or harm the consumer.