Taxi competition and even the fight for customers in the territory of the Riga International Airport (hereinafter referred to as the Riga Airport) last for more than a decade. Despite solutions being sought, one has not reached the desired result yet so that passengers can receive a safe, high-quality service at the airport that meets their needs. The airport established its own procedures for the provision of taxi services for many years. Still, such an approach did not comply with the laws and regulations, thus being lawfully terminated in 2017 by a court decision. To address the problem of taxi services at the airport, the airport selected outsourcing through a tender. At the same time, one amended the laws and regulations several times and adopted several new ones as well, but no result followed until September 2019. At present, one has adjusted the laws and regulations including establishing the right of the airport to organise the access of taxi service providers to the taxi line and the criteria according to which taxi service providers may provide services on the taxi line. This should also be sufficient to streamline access to taxi services. However, after the airport audit, the State Audit Office must admit that the problems still exist and that passengers can end up in the vehicles of unscrupulous carriers without realising it.
Public transport is preferred at a modern airport; however, the infrastructure of Riga Airport is designed so that the passenger would prioritise using a taxi. The situation will change significantly with the construction of the new passenger terminal and connection to Rail Baltica. Yet, one must take into account that taxi services will continue to play an essential role in the airport area in the coming years.
Since the court ruling in 2017 when the court adjudicated that the procedure established by the Riga Airport prevented all taxi service providers from entering the airport’s taxi line, the airport was obliged to change the existing practices and remove the barrier immediately that restricted equal access of all taxi drivers to their designated lanes at the airport.
Neither the Riga Airport nor the Ministry of Transport as the shareholder thereof hurried to comply with the court’s decision thus resulting quite naturally in a penalty imposed by the court on the Members of the Board of the Riga Airport and the State Secretary of the Ministry of Transport.
Riga Airport chose to outsource the solution to the problem regarding taxi services. Namely, a tender was announced for the right to develop and implement a strategy for passenger transport services and traffic management in the airport area in December 2017. After the end of the tender in the middle of 2018, the organisation of passenger transport services and traffic were outsourced to the only tenderer, general partnership “Lidostas Satiksme” (hereinafter referred to as the General Partnership).
Both the State Audit Office and the Procurement Monitoring Bureau, which issued an opinion on the tender within the audit, consider that they should have applied procurement regulation to the selection of the tenderer instead of the airport’s internal procedures. The State Audit Office concluded in the audit that the airport did not observe the transparency of the procurement procedure, the free and fair competition of suppliers. Thus, competition among potential tenderers was restricted.
The audit evidence shows that the terms of reference of the General Partnership covered a wide range of issues it should tackle. For example, it included the requirement to develop and implement a single traffic organisation at the airport, including that it should be safe for people with reduced mobility, perception, or health problems. However, improving taxi traffic was prioritised among a wide range of tasks by neglecting other duties.
The changes in the laws and regulations made at the time when there were “taxi wars” at the airport also were not sufficient for making the procedure for receiving taxi services at the airport understandable to passengers. Only in August 2019, the regulation was amended in the way that yielded tangible results.
The State Audit Office appreciates the desire of the Ministry of Transport to arrange the part of its area of responsibility that affects both the comfort of passengers and the reputation of our country directly because the airport is the first contact with Latvia and a business card of Riga to some extent. That is why the management of Riga Airport and the Ministry of Transport should do everything possible to finally put an end to the never-ending story of taxi service providers’ “wars” and potential passenger fraud at the Riga Airport by taking advantage of the reduction in flights and passengers caused by the pandemic.
At the end of the audit, taking into account the best practice of foreign airports, the State Audit Office recommended that the Riga Airport should post detailed information on taxi carriers entitled to provide services on the airport taxi line, their applied tariffs, as well as risks that passengers might face when choosing a taxi service provider including foreign guests on its website. As recommended, Riga Airport has already supplemented its website with this useful information for passengers.
At the same time, after the audit, the State Audit Office agrees with the statement of the Riga Airport and the Ministry of Transport only partially that all problems related to the provision of taxi services at the airport have now been eliminated thanks to laws and regulations. According to the auditors, the Ministry of Transport still has to do its “homework” so that passengers can choose a safe taxi service at the airport that suits their needs. For example, the auditors have pointed to the possibility included in the regulation to pay for the taxi service with a prepaid voucher. That option is not provided either as no taxi service provider offers to buy such prepaid vouchers. The auditors also point to the need for ensuring easy access to taxi services for passengers who opt for taxi services by electronic means online on a website or in a mobile app. One must act to avoid the risk if the event if service providers offering their services outside the taxi line charge the passenger a disproportionate fee after the drive.