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 Header Item National Positive Ageing Strategy Implementation (Continued)
 Header Item Taxi Regulations

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am very taken with the Deputy's concern for older people. Had there been some reasonable planning by him and his colleagues when they were in the previous Government, had they had some reasonable concern for the economic security of older people, had they had some genuine concern about ensuring that all the crucial services were kept in place and maintained, perhaps they would have dealt with matters with greater economic and fiscal responsibility and insight. Let us not be naive and think that the world started on 9 March 2011 or that the Deputy, his party and their history and economic record are of no relevance to the current plight of older people. I know quite a number of older people whose financial security was destroyed by the crass economic negligence and incompetence of the previous Government. However, when it comes to this particular strategy, there is a commitment to provide it and I reiterate that a considerable amount of preparatory work has been completed. There is a need to complete the cross-departmental consultation process that is taking place, because this is a strategy that will affect a broad range of Departments and work is ongoing with regard to the strategy. I am advised that final drafting of the strategy is proceeding within the Departments.

However, one should also recognise there are constraints with regard to available staff in dealing with these matters, not just because of other priorities but because of the obligation on the Government to downsize the public service, an obligation derived from the agreement entered into with the troika by the Deputy's party and derived from the necessity to ensure the Government gets the public finances in order and reduces public expenditure. Consequently, if some matters take longer to come to fruition than may have been possible six or seven years ago, there is a reason for that. Regardless of whether it makes the Deputy uncomfortable, I am afraid the foundation reason for this is what occurred in the context of alleged economic and fiscal policy between the years 2000 and 2010, when the Deputy's party was in government. However, I assure the Deputy that the present Administration is committed to producing the strategy, which forms part of the programme for Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is doing everything possible to ensure it is published as early as is practicable in the new year, when the cross-departmental consultation process has been completed.

Taxi Regulations

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan I have been contacted on this issue in recent months by several taxi groups, as well as by many individual taxi drivers, and they have expressed a lot of concern about it. One of their main concerns is they believe that rural taxi drivers have not been consulted properly. They have told me that many of their dealings were done in electronic format, that is, by e-mail, etc., and one taxi driver to whom I spoke just before entering the Chamber told me that many of his colleagues were not aware of these changes until a few weeks ago because the method of informing them was not a method they used to communicate.

They also have flagged a problem with the proposed prohibition on selling licences. These taxi drivers have handed over a lot of money for these licences and I believe they should be allowed to pass them on. In addition, they have expressed concern regarding the branding of cars in rural areas. Many of these taxi drivers also use these cars for their personal use, there is not that much money around, and they believe this would not be a good idea in rural areas. They also have expressed concerns about the possibility of counterfeiting of this branding, as well as about its cost and on who will enforce it. In particular, they have expressed concerns regarding the credit card facilities, the installation of such electronic machinery in their cars and its prohibitive cost, as well as the cost of dealing with whatever institution one must deal. They consider that for the number of people who would avail of cards in their cars, it simply would not be worth their while. They would not have a problem with the proposal if it was, but they already are put to the pins of their collars in this regard. While they have not stated they are opposed to all of these proposals, they seek more time to talk about them. The people who have contacted me indicated they would like a further six months in order that there could be proper consultation in which they could talk to the Minister of State and explain their particular concerns regarding rural areas.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I thank the Deputy for raising this question. When I first came into office, one of my key priorities was to tackle rogue operators in the taxi sector. There has been unfair competition in the taxi market to date as those full-time professional drivers who do their business well have been obliged to compete with those who consistently flout the rules. The system of regulation needed to become much more robust and it will. Between the taxi review report, the new Taxi Regulation Bill and an increased effort from both the Garda and the National Transport Authority, NTA, I am confident a stop can be put to many issues that taxi drivers frequently raise. More than 13,000 vehicles have been checked this year by both the Garda and NTA enforcement officers and this effort will continue with measures on which I now will elaborate further.

Overall, the reforms arising from the taxi regulation review report concern the better enforcement of the taxi regulations, the improvement of standards and quality of transport service to customers, as well as the encouragement of an exit from the industry of those who operate in breach of the required standards and regulations. Many of the recommendations of the review report, once implemented, will facilitate the oversight of the industry by the National Transport Authority, which has responsibility for the regulation of the taxi industry under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 and will assist the NTA officers and the Garda Síochána to enforce the taxi regulations.

Action 24 of the review report proposes strengthening of the collaboration between the Garda Síochána and the NTA to secure effective "on-street" enforcement of taxi regulations and to refocus the compliance activities of the NTA towards a greater level of "off-street" compliance and enforcement. Concerning on-street enforcement, there has been very good co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the NTA on enforcement issues this year and a substantial number of joint operations have been undertaken. The NTA is currently drafting an enforcement plan for 2013, which will be co-ordinated with An Garda Síochána's policing plan for 2013 and this will assist with continued co­operation during 2013.

The introduction of taxi branding on taxis and wheelchair accessible taxis from 1 January 2013, in line with action 31 of the review report, aims to provide greater visibility and recognition of taxis, to reduce the potential for unlicensed vehicles to operate as taxis, as well as to promote greater professionalism in the industry. If, on renewal, a driver does not have the official branding, his or her vehicle licence will not be renewed. If a driver is caught on the street with branding that is not official, he or she then will be liable to a €250 fine. In addition, as recommended under actions 21 and 25 of the review report, Garda powers are to be extended to allow members of An Garda Síochána to issue fixed charge notices in respect of additional small public service vehicle, SPSV, fixed charge offences. It is anticipated that in 2013, regulations will be made in this regard upon commencement of section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 2010.

The new legislation will provide for a much more sophisticated enforcement toolkit, which will include mandatory disqualification for life for serious criminal offences, mandatory disqualification for a period where life disqualification may be disproportionate, revocation or suspension of licences where appropriate, fines to be imposed by courts, fixed payment offences and a demerit scheme, that is, penalty points where repeated minor transgressions will lead to a temporary suspension, if necessary.

Other provisions in the Bill will enable the NTA to supplement its existing enforcement resources through service agreements, will allow authorised officers powers to inspect and examine the condition and roadworthiness of SPSVs and, under warrant, to enter a private dwelling for enforcement purposes, as well as to enable the NTA to establish and use cameras, CCTV and other apparatus at taxi ranks for enforcement and prosecutions. Further to the Government decision of 27 November, the Taxi Regulation Bill was published on 5 December and is to be introduced in the Seanad in January 2013.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan I am always somewhat bemused as to how the Minister responding knows the answer to the issues that are to be brought up, as well as all the details, before the Member who raised it has actually spoken in the Topical Issue debate. When the Minister of State was writing his response, he obviously knew all these things. The most interesting point made by the Minister of State was that the Government intends to crack down hard on rogue taxi drivers.

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