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London Taxi prepares for east-coast rollout

Local cab: The Geely TX4 London-style taxi hit Perth streets in December as a part of a four-year state government trial.

Victoria approves sale of London Taxis but no trial for now as WA study continues

24 Feb 2014

THE Victorian government has approved the sale of Chinese brand Geely’s TX4 taxi, paving the way for the London-style cab to enter service in the state.

However, a trial similar to the one running in Western Australia is still to be given the green light.

A four-year trial of the so-called ‘white cabs’ commenced in Perth last December to determine the viability of the TX4 in the Australian market.

London Taxi Company (Aust) chief executive Evan Simeon, who is the local distributor, told GoAuto that the Victorian Taxi Services Commission – the state’s government-appointed regulator of the taxi and hire-car industries – had approved the Chinese-built TX4 for sale, enabling the company to press the vehicle into service.

However, Mr Simeon said London Taxi was reluctant to launch in Victoria until the commission implemented the 138 reforms that were recommended following a government review into the taxi industry last year.

He also said the trial in WA was still its early stages, and that the company wanted to “get the bugs out of it” and have 100 vehicles in service before moving to the eastern seaboard.

“That is not going to happen until April so I don’t see us getting to another market, whether it is Victoria or another market as we are talking to other states as well, until the latter half of this year,” he said.

In Perth, strong interest in the trial has led to the London Taxi Co increasing the number of places from 50 to 100 drivers. Currently there are 35 white cabs in service in the city, with 50 due by the end of the month and 100 by April.

The company is collecting feedback from passengers via a ‘QR’ code on the side of the cabin that occupants can scan, taking them to a website where they can post comments. Mr Simeon said early feedback from passengers and drivers has been positive.

The taxis will be managed via a traditional owner-operator system on a rent-to-buy basis that means the owner pays an upfront deposit of $16,000 which gets them a completely fitted-out taxi, followed by a monthly fee of $1538 for 36 months and a residual fee of $13,000 at the end of the three-year period, at which point they will own the vehicle.

Operators can also buy the taxi outright for $52,000, plus extra charges such as fit-out, GST and on-roads.

Mr Simeon said the pay-off for the owner-operator is that 100 per cent of the income from the fares goes directly to the owner, while the Western Australian government offers a $41,600 rebate over four years for the first 100 trial vehicles.

Part of the requirements from the WA government for the trial included ensuring that parts and servicing facilities were in place before a car hits the road.

Mr Simeon said the company engaged an agent in Perth to manage the taxis for the trial, and this included setting up a service centre.

“That company has a service centre with three hoists and service bays and has $400,000 worth of parts and stock,” he said. “They had training conducted by the UK technicians for a period of six weeks before we started in Perth.

“There is one service centre in Maylands and another centre in Cannington, the other side of town. We have covered the bases pretty well and no-one is more than 15 minutes from a service centre if there is an issue.”

In selecting drivers, Mr Simeon said the WA department of transport analyses driver data to ensure they have been driving taxis continually for the past 12 months, while their performance is also looked at with any breaches or no-shows working against their application.

Once whittled down, Mr Simeon said representatives of the London Taxi Company assess the driving ability of the applicant to determine their suitability for the trial.

Mr Simeon praised the WA government’s handling of the trial and said it would be ideal for the model to be adopted by other states for any future trials, although each state has its own regulatory requirements.

“They have been proactive, they have been good lateral thinkers, they have thought outside the square (and) they are trying to shift the paradigm of thinking as to what should be a taxi,” he said.

“It hasn’t been easy because they have guidelines they have to abide by, but it’s pretty hard to argue against good common sense sometimes.”

Mr Simeon said the trial had identified issues with the TX4 taxi that needed to be addressed before they are rolled out in other states, and added that parent company Geely had been receptive to the changes.

Some of the upgrades include adding USB phone and laptop chargers in the cabin, removing ashtrays from the rear passenger doors, swapping the cigarette lighter in the dash for a power socket, including factory-installed cruise control and changing the gearbox strategies as the gears are currently changing up too quickly.

Mr Simeon said engineering tweaks will also be made to ensure better NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) mitigation, while brackets will be added where required to reduce vibration.

The wheelchair-accessible TX4 taxi is powered by a 75kW/240Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.

The taxis are already in operation in a number of markets including the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa and the US.

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