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 Header Item Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages (Continued)
 Header Item Taxi Regulation Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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  7 o’clock

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Although this is discrete, short legislation covering the area of multi-annual budgeting, it is important to put it to bed before we embark on the early budget. For this reason, it must be enacted this side of the parliamentary break. I thank the Deputies opposite for facilitating this requirement and giving robust and good consideration to the measures in the Bill. I look forward to an ever improving budgetary process as a result of what Deputy Sean Fleming described as impositions from afar, albeit impositions which are encouraging and helping us to have a more transparent budgetary cycle and ex ante budgetary process.

  Question put and agreed to.

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

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Alan Kelly, to the House and acknowledge his hands-on approach to the transport portfolio. He is doing good work on the taxi industry. For example, he met all the key stakeholders and chaired a review group established early this year to examine ways to improve legislation on the taxi industry.

  I have the greatest respect for the vital job that is done by taxi service operators as I see it at first hand every day in my Longford-Westmeath constituency and Dublin city. Taxi men and, more recently, taxi women have served their communities for generations. The sector makes an essential contribution to urban life and has helped rural areas move from isolation to connection.

   Front-line workers such as taxi drivers must be protected. Taxi drivers are akin to emergency response personnel in that they work irregular hours, away from their families, with no set or guaranteed income at the end of their long working day. They must often wait for long periods in taxi ranks before being called into service. In performing their role, they provide a service to people when it is needed. The burden and sacrifice attached to their job adds a certain amount of hardship and stress.

  In the past ten years, taxi drivers have been squeezed by improper and excessive regulation which has been imposed from the top down. Licensed taxi service owners are being threatened daily by illegal operators because enforcement has failed. It is now proposed to remove the right of taxi operators to pass on their businesses to their children. I am concerned about the adverse effects this proposal will have on established licensed taxi service operators. Deregulation in other areas is also destroying the taxi service business.

  The enforcement of small public service vehicle rules, which is undertaken by the Garda Síochána and National Roads Authority compliance officers, is not working owing to the excessive amount of cross-compliance. The taxi sector is a good example of an industry that has been over-regulated. Before the Minister of State assumed responsibility for the taxi sector, the voice of the ordinary taxi driver working at the coal face of the business had been seldom, if ever, heard. Taxi drivers deliver the service on the ground and listen to users' views on where services could be improved.

  In the past decade, far too may changes and demands have come from the top down. Licensed taxi service owners are finding it more difficult by the day to juggle the demands of work, legislation, deregulation and family life. Taxi operators who started operating prior to deregulation and have built successful businesses through hard work, often to the detriment of their health, have fallen victim to the actions of illegal operators. The problem is not small public service vehicle requirements but the fact that illegal operators are falling through the cracks in terms of enforcement.

  I understand the Commission on Taxi Regulation was established for the purposes of bettering society, improving the security of taxi operators and the general public and delivering a better licensed taxi service. It is heart-breaking that hardworking taxi operators who work long hours as they seek to provide for their families in a difficult and competitive sector are falling victim to legislation which could victimise them and their families by removing the right to pass on their business, except in the event of death of a licence holder. I ask the Minister of State to provide greater clarity on this issue and the provisions of section 2. This proposal runs counter to competitive norms and will act as a major disincentive to enterprise. No one in his or her right mind could condone such a rule. By virtue of their self-employed status, taxi drivers lack certain entitlements. For this reason, we must ensure that, in common with farmers and the owners of land, shops and other businesses, the owners of taxi businesses are allowed to pass on to their children the business they have built up. The current draconian provision should be removed from the Bill to allow taxi drivers to operate in a manner similar to other businesses.

  This Bill is the most forward-looking and comprehensive legislation on the taxi sector since the foundation of the State. It replaces a 2003 Act which was written in great haste following a court case and corrects many of the mistakes Fianna Fáil-led Governments made. The current legislation fails to protect consumers and taxi drivers. This Bill will bring to an end the practice of turning a blind eye to taxi regulation and allowing irregularities to continue unchecked. Its main provisions include mandatory disqualification from holding a licence on conviction for certain offences. This provision will be implemented through an amendment to section 36 of the 2003 Act.

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