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White taxi upgrade runs out of power

Scheme suspended over flat car batteries

The installation of new meters and monitoring equipment in white taxis has been suspended because the machinery was prematurely flattening car batteries.

A spokesman for Alberta Group, which supplies and installs the equipment, confirmed it was in discussions with Transport Malta and the White Taxi Association on how to resolve the problem.

All 300 white taxis must have the new meters, tracking devices and CCTV cameras installed as part of reforms that came into force in November 2010.

The reform was intended to stamp out abuse in the industry. Alberta Group said 190 white taxis had been fitted with the equipment before the process was suspended around two weeks ago. The problem had affected “very few” taxis, the spokesman said.

It was caused when drivers switched on the first stage of ignition while stationary to listen to radios as they waited for clients.

The ignition triggers the new meters and monitoring equipment and drivers of certain types of vehicles complained this flattened their batteries.

“We understand that drivers need to listen to their radios if they are waiting around, so we agreed to stop the installations until we agree on the way forward.”

Software upgrades on taxis that already have the new equipment would be installed remotely once an agreement was reached, he added.

The Times was tipped off about the problem last week by taxi owner Anthony Tanti, 50, who was responding to an article last month about drivers not using their meters, as required by law.

Mr Tanti said he knew of many taxi drivers who had experienced problems with their car batteries after having had the system fitted.

He was refusing to have the equipment installed unless the regulator and the supplier guaranteed to compensate him for lost earnings and breakdown costs if it made his battery flat.

“These meters are too big,” he insisted.

A spokesman for Transport Malta, which awarded the tender to Alberta, said: “We are aware that a number of taxi drivers have had equipment problems, which they are discussing with their supplier.

“We wish to underline that, although we determine the outputs of the equipment needed to be installed in taxis, we do not design, manufacture, procure or install such equipment.”

Transport Malta is financing the installations through a grant of €3,316 (VAT included) to the owners of white taxis that existed before November 1, 2010.

The grant also covers renting a replacement taxi while the equipment is installed.

Owners of the 50 white taxi licences granted since November 1, 2010, must pay for the equipment themselves.

Transport Malta said earlier this month that all 300 taxis were expected to be upgraded by the end of January. It said it would then be able to monitor the location, speed and meter status of white taxis from its remote monitoring facility.

The association representing white taxis declined to comment on the equipment, saying the problem was between Alberta and the Government.

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