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Taxi Regulation Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan] However, that does not mean there were no areas in need of reform or regulation.

One issue of major concern to taxi drivers is oversupply, but that is the one issue the Bill does not address or try to regulate. I come from Dublin Central and I see the queues of taxis all the time waiting for fares. There is visible evidence of oversupply. Only yesterday I had to take a taxi. The man told me that I was the second fare in six hours. We know that the large increase in numbers started in 2000. In 2011, the taxi review group stated that the oversupply was between 13% and 22% but I reckon that is something of an underestimate. It is surprising that the taxi review group did not recommend capping numbers.

No doubt when the downturn came it was easy to get a taxi plate. Taxi drivers whose sole means of income was driving a taxi faced severe competition from double jobbers and the increase in those who found it so easy to get a taxi because it seemed to be the answer to the lack of jobs. Had that been handled more efficiently, we would have had a better industry. I believe that lack of regulation opened the floodgates.

As with most jobs, it is all about exits and entrants, but in the taxi business the numbers are not matching. Far more are entering than exiting and this makes it very difficult for taxi drivers to earn an adequate income. This results in their working longer hours and sometimes working beyond the time they should be working. There are resulting issues relating to health and safety. If they work in excess of the permitted time, they could pose a serious risk to themselves, to passengers and to other road users. Therefore, tackling the number should be the first step.

I wish to draw attention to one particular example. Let us consider the lines of taxis waiting on a fare. That can take several hours, but there are parts of the inner city where these lines are not near public toilets and where it is not possible for the taxi drivers to get to a public toilet, with the unfortunate consequence of nearby lanes and corners being used as urinals. This has caused much annoyance to communities in the inner city, who have had to walk past. It has meant that the local authorities have had to carry out a good deal of power washing in these particular areas as well.

One cannot blame drivers for leaving the engine running for heat in cold weather but it is not economical or environmentally friendly. Coming along Dame Street last Friday night was rather like taking my life in my hands because of the number of taxis double-parked and idle, trying to pick up fares. I know the arguments against the regulating of numbers relating to competition, ensuring an adequate supply, ensuring new entrants, ensuring customers have a good supply and the fact that if the competition is not intense then standards will fall. However, I do not necessarily agree with all of that. The Indecon report noted that attempts to restrict numbers have led to difficulties because regulators were not especially good at estimating the level of supply needed to meet demand. However, that is no reason not to try to regulate the numbers to ensure reasonable competition, an adequate supply of taxis and that taxi drivers can earn a reasonable income and work reasonable hours.

Let us consider other jobs and professions that have incentives to retire. I realise taxi drivers are self-employed but perhaps there is a need for some incentives to encourage retirement in certain areas to bring about some matching between entrants and exits. I do not believe the industry can take any more new entrants at this point, certainly not in Dublin. However, I support the comments of other Deputies about rural areas because certain rural areas could do with a more comprehensive taxi service. We know about the sadness and loneliness in isolated parts of rural Ireland and the social consequences. I believe there is a role for the taxi industry in that regard.

One implication of the new mandatory disqualifications for the conviction of certain offences is that some current drivers may lose their licences. That is fair enough if it is warranted but I hope there will be a fair system, that there will be an appeals system and that it will not be used as a way to restrict numbers.

In the past, the number of taxis was inadequate to meet demand and finding a taxi at certain hours, on certain nights or on certain occasions was like finding gold-dust in the city. Securing a plate almost required gold-dust as well, such were the costs in those times. I recognise that we have no wish to go back to that, but nor do we want what is happening now, which is an oversupply, long and unhealthy hours and too many drivers seeking too few fares.

There is an issue with wheelchair-accessible taxis, which are badly needed. I believe those taxi drivers do a fantastic job. However, the number of specially-adapted wheelchair-accessible taxis is falling. There are very expensive to buy, adapt and maintain. Everyone agrees with taxis being properly maintained and kept in good condition but I believe the economic downturn is causing severe difficulties for taxi drivers who are trying to replace such vehicles. That should be examined as well.

Another issue has come up recently in Dublin. Taxi drivers who normally work at the rank at the Gresham Hotel are going to be moved because of the Luas works. They are being moved from a prime location that accommodates many on O'Connell Street to an area where there are only a few spaces on a small street off O'Connell Street. This will put additional stress on these men and women who are looking for fares.

Another thing struck me when I was reading the Bill. It is a case of too many chiefs because the National Transport Authority, the Taxi Regulator and the Garda Síochána are all involved. Let us consider one example. The Garda Síochána issues small public services vehicle, SPSV, licences. The NTA administers the test. Then it is back to the Garda to certify that the person is fit and proper. Then the NTA issues the SPSV licence. There seems to be a lack of co-ordination between all of these. Surely, one authority could do all of this.

Before I finish I wish to acknowledge the increasing difficulties for taxi drivers. This has resulted in an increasing number of suicides among taxi drivers. I also wish to acknowledge that they do fantastic charity work. We see this in Dublin on certain occasions and the charitable organisations with which they are involved are grateful. On the downside, they take chances and we have all seen examples of U-turns in the middle of the street and of stopping in the middle of the road to let fares out. We know that there is something of a love-hate relationship between taxi drivers and cyclists. However, if they could operate on the basis of mutual respect and if each of them kept all of the rules of the road, it would be better. I will leave it at that.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Deputy, you are in possession and we have no other speakers offering. Deputy McGrath has spoken previously and so he cannot contribute a second time on this debate. Will you move the adjournment, please?

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I came especially to support my colleague, the Minister of State, from Tipperary.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Thank you, Deputy McGrath. The record shows you have already spoken on Second Stage.

Debate adjourned.

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