The fragmented regulatory framework in place for chauffeur-driven vehicles, hindering the interest of both the passengers and operators alike, required expeditious review of the current regulations. It is in response to this that, the Ministry of Transport (the “Ministry”) has earlier this month published a consultation document (the “Consultation Document”) aimed at harmonising and strengthening the regulations governing the garage hire sector in Malta.
One salient proposal set forth in the Consultation Document is that, chauffeur-driven services (also referred to as light passenger transport vehicles having 8 or less seats hired out with a driver) are to be distinguished from vehicle rental and leasing services, which are self-driven vehicles. This would entail the promulgation of two separate sets of regulations distinctly governing said services. Additionally, the Ministry is also envisaging that the ‘Public Service Garage’ permit system be abolished.
Chauffeur Driven Services –
The new regulations propose that operators rendering chauffeur-driven services will now be expected to operate under a licence granted only upon the fulfilment of certain criteria. The current requirements as stipulated by the Passenger Transport Services Regulations (S.L. 499.56) have been updated to mirror a similar procedure required by taxi drivers, meaning that they will only be granted a driver’s permit (TAG) if they sufficiently meet and possess a number of pre-determined qualities. Whilst current vehicle requirements are being upheld, further requirements have been included to bring chauffeur driven services on par with existing Taxi Services Regulations (S.L. 499.59) (which regulate white taxis) and the proposed new regulations regarding self-driven vehicles. The new proposed regulations are expected to heighten responsibilities for both operators as well as drivers. Furthermore, in order to comply with existing EU wide measures and facilitate a safe option for passengers, digital platforms will be expected to operate under a licence and abide by licensing conditions or serve as an intermediary booking service platform solely for licensed operators. Under the current legal framework, drivers are required to be employed with the Operator Licence holder. This requirement is now specifically also being extended to digital transport platforms. This final condition is aimed at curbing emerging practices by operators engaging ‘self-employed’ drivers without any employment or contractual relationship, which in turn gives these platforms an unfair advantage over ‘legitimate’ and legally compliant operators. Penalties for anyone found in breach of these regulations are also currently being reviewed, in order to reflect more hefty punishments.
Vehicle rental and Leasing Services –
Under the proposed regulations, operators of vehicle rental and leasing services will only be granted one operator license irrespective of the number of garages owned and/or rented. Said operators must have a central operating facility and shall be obliged to own a minimum of 5 registered vehicles as opposed to 4 which is the current minimum. The current eligibility criteria will be retained, with the exception that additional responsibilities will be placed on operators. The Ministry has also proposed to introduce a time limit for which a rental car is to be kept. In fact, any vehicles exceeding 10 years from registration are to be removed. Finally, a minimum set of service standards are also being implemented, the scope of which is to better serve clients, maintain records and operate in a controlled manner so as to allow the Authority to review the operators’ practices.
In conclusion, the scope of these amendments is to amplify safety standards utilising these services, ensure enforcement systems as well as guarantee a level playing field amongst operators. The public consultation is open for feedback till the 25th September 2019.