During a lockdown, many Ukrainians have no alternative to travel long distances other than using taxi services. This affects not only the significant prices for travel, which the Antimonopoly Committee has already become interested in, but also the safety of passengers. After all, 98% of taxi drivers in Ukraine are engaged in their activities illegally and do not undergo any checks on their health or the condition of the car.
Last fall, the driver of one of the largest taxi aggregators fell asleep while driving and crashed into a public transport stop. Then two citizens were killed and three more were injured. The same thing happened a month later, but there were fewer victims. Over the past six months, there have been cases when cars of different taxi services crashed into each other and even into patrol cars, which led to the hospitalization of law enforcement officers.
Why has the taxi market gone into the shadows and how can a passenger of an illegal taxi protect his rights?
Two out of a hundred are legal
Formally, in most cases, it is not even a taxi that brings you to your destination. According to Art. 1 of the Law of Ukraine "On Automobile Transport", a taxi is a passenger car with an identification lamp on the roof, a checkerboard on the doors and a taximeter that determines the cost of the trip. In the branding of popular services, there is no taxi symbolism, and, if you follow the letter of the law, their cars are not taxis at all.
In total in our country, according to the Minister of Infrastructure Vladyslav Krikliy, there are 220 thousand people, that is, 1.1% of the economically active population that are working as taxi drivers. But less than 20 thousand do this legally, and this is even taking into account not only domestic, but also international traffic. Drivers of other vehicles either do not register as entrepreneurs and do not receive a license, or are not officially employed by licensed companies. Nobody monitors the state of their health, the length of the working day, or the serviceability of the cars.
According to the head of the Ukrainian Taxi Association Andriy Antonyuk, 1.5 million trips take place across the country per day. Given this level of market transparency, one can imagine the real number of accidents involving taxis.
In one of the studies of Ukrtranssecurity, it is indicated that due to the fault of taxi drivers in 2018, 59 road accidents occurred in Ukraine, in which not a single person died. In 2017, 94 accidents happened and three people died. At the same time, according to the estimates of the same department, more than 100 taxi drivers die on the roads every year. The data of one of the major taxi-aggregators does not add clarity, according to which, over the year, with the participation of the company's drivers, not a single accident occurred that would lead to death.
The “shadow” trend in taxi services is only progressing. Back in 2015, based on the estimates of Ukrtranssecurity, the number of legal cars was about 12% of the market. Now the service already accounts for 2-5% of legal carriers. Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krikliy also speaks about the same 2%.
The license register is updated with an unenviable rarity: there is no complete data even for 2019. However, this does not prevent us from establishing that since 2013 the number of applicants for a license has decreased by about 3-4 times. If 8 years ago 2,453 licenses were issued, then in 2017 - 758, in 2018 - 755, and for incomplete 2019 - only 531 permits.
In Kyiv, the situation is a little better - 5-12% of the market have licenses. The tendency of their issuance practically does not change (if we compare 2013 and 2018). At the same time, more and more people are taxed every year. According to the estimates of the co-founder and chief operating officer of the largest Ukrainian taxi aggregator, the market is growing by 10% annually.
Taxi aggregators and bureaucratic difficulties
One of the reasons for this situation, the expert of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics, Danylo Bogatyrev, calls the activities of popular aggregators offering employment without special conditions.
"This is an opportunity to go" the simple way "and, instead of issuing all the necessary documents, medical certificates and regular technical inspection of the car, join the databases of companies, avoiding official registration and payment of taxes, civil liability to the passenger," said he during a presentation of a study on the metropolitan taxi market.
The head of the Ukrainian Taxi Association Andriy Antonyuk says that in Kyiv every second order falls on drivers working through the American aggregator Uber. Ukrainian Uklon accounts for almost 15% of orders, and another 10% for Estonian Bolt. Companies are not responsible for drivers who register on these platforms, which means they do not interfere with the work of illegal carriers.
According to the Association's estimates, among all illegal carriers, about 85% are drivers from the databases of aggregator companies. The rest can work for taxi companies without registration or engage in illegal transportation on their own initiative. At the same time, the services themselves declare that they are in favor of legalization, and also remind of their participation in the creation of the concept of regulation of the taxi market.
"By registering with us, the drivers agree to certain user conditions. How they are responsible according to the law, we do not know," the regional manager of one of the taxi service told the media.
Back in early 2016, when the first taxi aggregator entered the Ukrainian market, taxi operators protested against this, arguing their position with the prospects of shadowing the market. Mayor Vitali Klitschko was then accused of lobbying the interests of a foreign company. Nevertheless, the company representative rejected these risks.
"They will have all the necessary documents to carry out their activities, including a license," said the company's communications manager.
In practice, everything turned out differently.
This is not to say that the clients of drivers cooperating with large aggregators are not protected at all. At least two large services insure clients. However, lawyers say: when an illegal taxi driver gets into an accident, there is little chance that the accident will be registered as a traffic accident involving a taxi. In addition, in the event that it comes to trial, it will be more difficult for the victim to receive compensation if the driver does not have a license.
And it is still difficult for a Ukrainian to protect his rights if the service was performed poorly, for example, he was not taken to his destination. The questions of technical inspection, the driver's rights, and his state of health remain open. Moreover, for a long time, companies encouraged drivers to work a lot, 12-18 hours a day with bonuses, which also did not improve the level of safety.
By the way, increased competition in the market after the appearance of taxi aggregators led to dumping, which also became an indirect reason even for licensed entrepreneurs to save on taxes.
Of course, it's not worth demonizing the activities of taxi aggregators. Their presence on the market significantly stimulates the "shadowing" of taxi services, but is not its main reason. Before aggregators came to the market, "shadow" worked through special servers.
If a user called a car of a particular taxi service by phone, in most cases his order went to an intermediate server, from it to a central server, and then to the phones of drivers who, in the vast majority of cases, did not have licenses. For such services, the drivers paid a certain percentage to the server holders.
Among other reasons for "shadowing", experts also name difficulties in obtaining a license for drivers and refusals for formal reasons. In addition, drivers avoid the bureaucratic fuss of opening a sole proprietorship. It is especially difficult to work legally for those who simply give a lift to passengers, because the presence of a main job often interferes with the registration of entrepreneurial activity.
Patents instead of licenses and secret raids
In 2012, in order to fight illegal immigrants, the most powerful exchange server was chopped off and 25 computers were seized. However, such methods of control are outdated, as well as the legislation regulating taxis. Thanks to smartphone apps, there is no longer a need for a certified taximeter and reporting.
To obtain a patent, you need a medical certificate and a service book, as well as no criminal record. After that, the carrier will be entered into the newly created Unified Register so that the passenger can find out information about the taxi by the car number. The bill also involves the introduction of the concept of aggregators, and creates a register for them, introduces compulsory insurance against accidents.
True, apart from the raids, the bill did not offer a clear mechanism that would allow controlling the patents of drivers. For example, the obligation for online services to transmit such data. As the obligation to limit the duration of the work of drivers. Therefore, a number of public organizations stated that such a bill only lobbies for the rights of mediators.
If we talk about the raid checks proposed in the initiative by the "secret client" method, then there are big doubts about the quality of such control. There is not enough authority, no staff, no resources to check illegal immigrants. The head of the department stated that due to problems with financing, there is no money "for light, Internet, fuel, stamps, decent wages for workers."
Before the start of the pandemic, it was planned to increase the number of inspectors from 150 to 650, digitalization of control. However, things are still there. It is not surprising that when there is one inspector per thousand kilometers of roads, even fines equal to the taxi driver's entire earnings per month do not become an obstacle for violators.
Lawyer Rostislav Kravets sees a problem in the inaction of the patrol police regarding illegal taxi drivers, which was recognized by the capital's District Administrative Court 4 years ago.
But the main problem is the high risks of corruption during inspections, which are still being written about in the media.
Kravets emphasizes: there is no simple solution. Without the creation of new jobs that would constitute an alternative for citizens in a pandemic, the situation, in his opinion, cannot be resolved.
So the drivers have to wait for the authorities to provide a comprehensive solution to the problems in the Ukrainian economy, and their clients - the earliest possible adoption of new and effective rules of the game. Of course, there is no guarantee that these rules will turn the situation upside down. But the new legislation is likely to be a step towards making taxi use a little safer.