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Cab drivers call for more regulation in ‘unsustainable’ industry

The Light Passenger Operators Association (LPOA) has described the ride-hailling industry as an “unsustainable” one which has gone unregulated for years.

Speaking to MaltaToday during an interview the President of LPOA, Aaron Gatt was reacting to instances of abuse within the industry flagged by this newspaper recently.

Gatt reflected widespread concern among the fledgling association’s members, as he noted that operators were seeing their profit margins dive by as much as 45% from the previous year while working more hours.

Gatt, who has been working in the industry for a number of years, explained that the market had started seeing drastic changes after its regulations were updated in 2019. This led lower barriers of entry to the industry.

“After COVID-19 there was an explosion in new drivers within the industry,” he noted while acknowledging that as a Y-plate vehicle owner, he knew that ride-hailling platforms would become the future of the industry. After the new regulations came into force, LPOA explained, hundreds started applying for their Y-plate vehicles while authorities failed to regulate them.

The lobby confirmed what other drivers had told MaltaToday regarding a complete lack of inspections on operators’ garages, meaning that an operator could register his vehicles under a specific garage which does not have the capacity to accommodate the vehicles.

“The lack of proper enforcement early on has caused the abuse we see nowadays,” the LPOA President said. One consequence of this, MaltaToday has learned is that a number of drivers are forced to sleep in their cars, as they do not own a garage and must work long hours.

Another common practice to skirt garage requirements is for operators who employ two people to cover 12-hour shifts on each vehicle, meaning that the vehicle would not need to be garaged overnight.

Gatt also noted that without the necessary regulation and enforcement, law-abiding operators were also bearing the brunt of reckless behaviour. An example of this is the mammoth’s task for a Y-plate vehicle owner to acquire insurance for their vehicles. Gatt said that given the number of controversies surrounding the industry all operators, including those who adhere to the regulations were subject to a doubling in their insurance fees in a short span of time.

These pressures, according to Gatt have started to squeeze legitimate operators out of business. “I know operators like myself who’ve quit the industry,” he said.

‘We want more proactive enforcement’

In light of these problems, LPOA told this newspaper that effective enforcement and regulation is the way forward if legitimate operators are to be protected.

MaltaToday has learned that operators within the industry have only just started to be asked to provide Transport Malta with “an exhaustive list of all the persons who are employed,” with operators. Apart from that, they are also now required to send the authority the documentation which shows that each driver has a driver’s tag, among other requirements.

Despite this, Gatt stated that the industry requires more enforcement. “We want more proactive enforcement,” he stated.

An example of this, according to Gatt could be for Transport Malta to contact operators which are known for their illegal practices. Gatt said that officials need only visit supermarkets’ parking spaces and contact the owners of the countless Y-plate vehicles they find, instead of “dragging their feet.”

Gatt nonetheless acknowledged that authorities seem to have ramped up enforcement during the past weeks, something he hopes will persist.