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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 Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle]  Before I discuss the provisions in the legislation, I wish to mention a recent proposal from the Minister of State for a rural hackney service. From the limited media reports I have seen I understand it is to be introduced by December and will be administered through the rural transport companies. I believe there will be restrictions on the areas in which the hackneys can operate. Today I searched for some time on the Department's website and the NTA's website and I could find no details of it - I could not even find details of an announcement of it.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly It was in the review.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle There is a two-line paragraph in the review and perhaps this is where this has all come from. I have serious concerns because many hackney drivers operate in the rural part of County Donegal where I live. Even though Killybegs has a population of 1,200 or 1,300 about eight or nine hackneys operate there every weekend. I can see the thought behind introducing this system through the rural transport companies, but existing hackney licence holders should be allowed to apply or tender and then it should be administered through the transport companies. This will introduce a third layer of taxis. We have the taxi-plate holders, the hackneys and now these new rural hackneys. There will be major problems with the policing and regulation of it. A person getting this new hackney licence might be restricted to operating within a five-mile radius of a small village in County Donegal. However, nothing will prevent him or her from going to operate in the nearest town. We know there will be no regulation because there are only nine enforcement officers.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly That will change.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle Nineteen would represent a big improvement. However, for a country of this size there is no way it will be possible to enforce regulation in that industry. Existing hackney licence holders should be able to tender with the rural transport companies. The payments can then be arranged with the rural transport companies. Hackney licence holders in rural areas are struggling and barely making a living as things stand.

The difficulty in making a living leads me to a matter not addressed by the legislation, which is the oversupply of taxis in the country. While it is difficult to make estimations, the Indecon report estimated that the oversupply could be as high as 22%. Based on what I see in Dublin I believe that is an underestimation of the oversupply. We all remember the complaints in 2001 and 2002 about the lack of taxis in Dublin. Then we had deregulation and the supply exploded. It is an example of market failure at the other end where the market has failed due to oversupply and has not been able to rectify itself. It would be an interesting study for some economist to figure out how to adjust for market failure in the other direction. We always talk about market failure being a lack of supply but we now have a complete oversupply. While it is not covered in the Bill, it needs to be addressed.

I know that the whole country is now effectively a taxi-meter area and taxis from rural areas can come in and operate in Dublin at the weekends etc. They will go where the business is and try to make a living. That further highlights the difficulty taxi drivers have in making a living as things stand at the moment. We cannot rely on the recession to deal with it because when the recession is over and things improve again, the supply will explode again. I do not know how it can be addressed but it needs to be considered on a longer-term basis.

I agree with the Bill's provisions to exclude people from getting PSV licences based on past convictions. I cannot understand why the provisions in the 2003 Act were never implemented because potentially a sex abuser or rapist could be plying his trade as a taxi driver, which makes no sense. I take it that will be implemented rapidly on the passing of the legislation. I have one note of caution. Existing taxi drivers who lose their licences under this provision can opt to go to the courts to have the licence reinstated if they show their good character in the intervening period since their convictions. However, it should be possible to have a system that is not as costly as going to the courts to have that right vindicated. Particularly in the transition period where existing taxi drivers lose their licences we should provide that a judge, a barrister or someone else could hold a review and make the decision on that basis rather than requiring that they go through the courts to have the right vindicated.

I agree with the assertions of the Sinn Féin Deputies about the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the former combatants who would be excluded under this Bill. There may be an obligation on the State to make some provision for that. That should be addressed.

Moving the licensing to the NTA and away from the Garda and the Carriage Office streamlines the process. However, the Bills digest for the legislation referred to concern that has been expressed relating to the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill that is on Committee Stage in the Dáil. It specifically states that its provisions do not apply to applications for licences under section 34 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. Owing to timing constraints it might not be possible to address that in this Bill, but it should be addressed and people with spent convictions should not have to disclose them when applying for taxi licences.

I agree with the introduction of a demerit system. I have already mentioned the lack of enforcement officers, which is a problem we have throughout Irish society. We are great at making the laws but terrible at enforcing them and we do not commit to the enforcement. I know the Bill provides that the NTA can enter service agreements for the enforcements. I have concerns about that. The outsourcing of enforcement is a retrograde step and we should have a system that is financed through the licence fees with our own enforcement officers. We should not outsource more enforcement. We have outsourced speed cameras and we will probably privatise and outsource the Garda at some stage in the future, which is not the way to go. That is a philosophical point of view I have.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I agree.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I agree with the basic tenets of the Bill. I ask the Minister of State to review the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill and to have a different system for licence holders who are excluded for previous convictions. Apart from that, I believe the Bill should be acceptable.

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 Deputies for their very comprehensive contributions across a range of issues.

In response to a query from Deputy Pringle, the whole of Ireland is a taxi-meter area, but an individual is required to have a licence to operate in each area. While a taxi driver can pick passengers up in Donegal and drop them at their destination, it is not possible for the taxi driver to end up in Dublin and start operating out of Dublin. The Deputy has made a very good suggestion about the courts. However, the Bill provides for an appeal mechanism which will probably meet the Deputy's requirements.

Deputies' contributions have ranged from the legislation before us to the multiplicity of regulatory changes introduced as a consequence of the implementation of the review which I chaired. As there is considerable duplication and overlap, I will refer to both of them. Indecon estimated a 22% oversupply, which I regarded as quite low. While I rarely see Dublin on a Saturday night, even on a Thursday or a Friday it is possible to see it.

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