Hailing the New Finnish Taxi System – This is How it Works

Janet, a customer service advisor at Finavia, is helping visitors at the Helsinki Airport to understand the new options in taxi services on July 6, 2018. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

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At the beginning of July, the Finnish laws were changed to deregulate the country’s taxi services. The idea is to bring more competition to provide a better service for consumers. It means that regulation passes from municipalities to the Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi and anyone with a valid driving license and able to pass a simple knowledge test could be a licensed taxi driver with a roadworthy vehicle. Taxis will then be no longer linked geographically to their registered area and will be free to ply their trade all over Finland.

Also, there will no longer be a government fixed pricing structure and cabbies will be able to charge what they like. Hence it will be up to the consumer to select the best deal on offer for their journey and that in turn may link to increased digitalization of these services.

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So far, the changes are most obvious at Helsinki Airport where the old short stay car park has been turned into lanes for buses and taxis. There are five lanes for the taxi ranks and now you don’t have to select the first taxi in a long queue. Instead, it is possible to look at the electronic boards in each lane to see the prices offered for the journey and then select the cheapest.

However, you may be ignorant of the changes, in a terrible rush or on business so the first taxi available will be selected. That is why the airport put the taxi lanes out for competitive tender, and the highest bidder obtained the lane nearest the terminal doors.

Taxis come and go in a quick pace. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

In the first taxi lane:  Lähitaksi offer a fixed price of 39 euros for up to four passengers to Helsinki Central Railway Station.

In the second taxi lane:  Vantaan Taksi Oy will charge 43 euros for the trip from the airport to the Helsinki railway station and near central areas for up to four passengers.

In the third lane:  Taksi Helsinki Oy is the largest operator in the metropolitan area and have a fixed price of 39 euros for up to four passengers to the Helsinki railway station.

The fourth and fifth lane outside Terminal 2 will be for any other taxi firm or independent taxi service.

Ready to go. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Hundreds of taxis in an hour

At peak times the airport has between 300 to 400 taxis leaving each hour, and this type of popular trip may bring more competition from taxi drivers cherry-picking the most lucrative journey to earn a daily living wage.  Developing this competition depends on the consumer realizing that it is possible to choose a taxi displaying the lowest fare. According to the new legislation, it is possible to ask the driver for the best-fixed price that they can offer for any journey and not be charged by a running meter.

For those late trips from Helsinki to home, it should be possible to question all the drivers in the taxi ranks for their best price and choose the best cab on the night. Taxi drivers will have to learn to negotiate and judge the best clients too. Maybe prices will be higher for rowdy party people, although it could be quite entertaining to watch drunks trying to get the best deal. Note that even Uber has a customer rating system and a low score may mean that none of their drivers will pick you up.

Maybe prices will be higher for rowdy party people, although it could be quite entertaining to watch drunks trying to get the best deal.

Booking that early morning journey from home to the airport may not come any cheaper. Yellow Line Airport Taxis quoted me online, to arrive at the airport at 6:30 in the morning, 39,50 euros for a shuttle taxi or 75 euros for a private taxi. While using Taksi Helsinki’s app, they would like to charge me 67 euros for the same journey.

Of course, with deregulation Uber will be shortly on the scene and the website gave me an estimate of UberX for 42 to 56 euros or their Black service for 58 to 77 euros. Uber is priced according to the time of day and service demand, so at 6:00 in the morning expect to pay the top end and not much difference to the regular taxi firms mentioned above.  However, for peace of mind and knowing that your taxi will arrive and get you to the airport on time it looks as though it will still be expensive.

Folks living in rural Finland may find that the changes do not help. The demand for regular taxi service is not large and taxi drivers may not be able to justify full-time operations. Thus, obtaining a taxi on demand may be difficult. Pre-booking well in advance will be essential, and this is already the case in the rural parts of the UK where more competition exists.

Speaking with a mixed group of Finns, I was surprised how few were aware of the changes. One young lady highlighted the fact that second to the police, Finns have great trust in taxi drivers, and it would seem very weird to be picked up by any member of the public if using Uber.

Maybe the new legislation will be slow to change attitudes and habits, but the cost of taxi journeys will slowly fall along with the reputation of the drivers. On the first day of the changes, Trafi received over 700 new taxi driver applications, so more competition is definitely on the way, and to get a better deal, do ask for a fixed price quote for your journey.

Shop around and maybe do that very un-Finnish thing—haggle.