Victorians may soon have access to up-to-date data on the performance of the state’s major taxi operators in an effort to inject competitive tension into what critics describe as an "insular" sector.
The nine-month old Taxi Services Commission, an independent regulator established in the wake of Allan Fels’ 2012 inquiry into the industry, plans to invest into new back office infrastructure that will allow it to crunch large volumes of data on taxi performance in near real-time, with an eye to making comparable performance rates public.
At the same time, tender documents released by the TSC reveal that new technology is being installed in cabs across the state that will allow them to transmit information about trips, shifts and fares on a continuous basis back to the Commission. The roll-out is due to be completed by June 2015.
The TSC says it is working towards a future taxi industry where “consumers will be able to make better informed choices for taxi services having access to performance data related to taxi networks and/or operators”.
It expects that the network performance data will be available to the community and industry on a monthly basis at a minimum, but is looking for a data warehouse solution with the capability to generate “real-time or near real time analysis of the data in addition to retrospective analysis”.
The TSC has approached the market to replace a small data warehouse based on IBM Cognos 10.2 software and a Microsoft SQL Server, in anticipation that it will eventually have to store and process data on up to 35 million taxi trips per annum, with an approximate size of 150 bytes per record.
The boost in data resources comes as a direct result of the recommendations of Fels’ 2012 report, which found that the sector was characterised by a “high level of protection and restrictive government regulation”.
In particular, the report recommended “the TSC should be provided with effective information gathering powers, including the requirement for all taxi permit holders to provide data on trips, shifts and fares direct from the taxi-cab to the TSC on a continuous basis.”
The report envisioned a scenario where the TSC hosts a public register of taxis operators, including wait times and complaint resolution statistics, would be available online. In its ideal scenario, passengers would scan decals and stickers to download information about their car and service direct to a smartphone.
The service transformation would bring the dominant Victorian taxi operators into line with challenger cab groups like Uber, which already offers prospective passengers car-by-car performance information and feedback displayed online.
Chief taxi services commissioner Graeme Samuel was not available to comment on the initiative.