Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Regulation of Rickshaws: Discussion
I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, back to the meeting. He is accompanied by three officials, Ms Maev Nic Lochlainn, Ms Denise Keoghan and Mr. Declan Hayes. I remind attendees to switch off mobile phones or switch them to aeroplane mode. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
I thank the Chair for giving me the opportunity to address this issue. As it happens, this discussion is extremely timely. In recent weeks, I indicated I would make a decision on the preferred policy approach to the issue of rickshaws before the end of this Dáil term and I intend to do that.
Like many members of the committee, I have deep concerns about public safety with rickshaws and their activities on our streets. All of us have seen these vehicles. Complaints range from blocking footpaths and forcing pedestrians onto the road, weaving recklessly in and out of traffic, paying little or no heed to the rules of the road and breaking red lights to driving the wrong way up one-way streets and transporting passengers with little care for their safety. Collisions have also occurred. A National Transport Authority, NTA, survey found that 57% of rickshaw passengers reported accidents or near misses, which is a shocking, stark statistic, but there is much more.
While it is accepted that many in the rickshaw industry have no involvement in criminality, it is a fact that over the past 18 months, 154 rickshaw drivers have been arrested under section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, which deals with possession of a controlled drug for sale or supply, while operating as a rickshaw driver in the Pearse Street district alone. This is not tolerable. The Garda is committed, focused and doing great work to tackle drug pushing and address criminal threats. My Department also has an important part to play as we decide the optimal regulatory approach for rickshaws.
As members will be aware, I asked the NTA to undertake a public consultation last autumn. My intention was that this would inform the regulatory impact assessment which must be undertaken in the context of developing new legislation. More than 4,800 responses were received, reflecting a keen level of interest and concern. The NTA consultation process reaffirmed many of the concerns that had been raised with me, including issues such as dangerous behaviour on public roads, lack of lighting, no insurance, illegal use of rickshaws in pedestrian zones, obstruction of buses and blocking of taxis from taxi ranks. It also found concern about the lack of a transparent fare structure, with 44% of passengers in the survey reporting issues with rickshaw charges. It seems that passengers are sometimes led to believe that one fare is to be charged but when they arrive at their destination, it turns out that the figure quoted was per person, rather than for the journey. Such behaviour is obviously unacceptable.
I will now address Deputy Munster's amendment. I am well aware that many members have been converted as regards the need to take action about the activities associated with rickshaws. We all have the same concerns about safety on our streets and protection for passengers. When Deputy Munster put forward an amendment to the Road Traffic Bill that would give suitable powers to the NTA to regulate rickshaws, the Dáil was in agreement and I accepted the amendment, which the House passed. It was unfortunate that I was unable to commence the provision, which is now section 31 of the associated Act. However, it was wise to heed legal advice indicating there would be a real risk attaching to any regulations made under the section.
The risk was considered unacceptably high with a strong likelihood of the regulations being challenged and ultimately struck down in the courts.
Despite this setback, I have made it clear on many occasions in the Dáil that I have always shared the concerns relating to rickshaws and that I am actively taking steps to address these. The NTA public consultation was one important element of this process.
I also instructed my Department to conduct international research and consider regulatory models in other EU member states' cities and to engage with a range of stakeholders like the NTA itself, the RSA, An Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council and others in the local authority sector. Considering the legislative options was always going to be the most critical step. It was also an extraordinarily complex one which few had anticipated initially.
It is clear to me that the choice is between a full and effective licensing regime and complete prohibition. Retaining the status quois not an option. In relation to the public consultation, I must admit that I was surprised when the majority, at 54%, supported an outright ban. Introducing regulation was favoured by less, at 38%. In any case, a full analysis of both options was needed.
Any new regulatory regime for rickshaws would have to focus on public safety and consumer protection. To do this effectively, new legislative provisions would be needed in the areas of: driver and operator licensing, vehicle registration and licensing, rickshaw roadworthiness involving an NCT-style test, motor tax, fares regulation, regulation in the standards of service, and offences and penalties to allow for proper enforcement.
All this would lead to better customer experience and an improvement in the management of safety for passengers, as well as for other road users. Rickshaws are arguably meeting a certain niche demand which is not being met by the traditional public transport services. According to the survey, 38% want to retain them. Regulating would allow rickshaws to continue in operation, contributing a fun and vibrant aspect to city life.
However, significant resources would need to be invested. More administration and enforcement resources would be needed in the NTA and the Garda, possibly also in the RSA. Implementing a full licensing regime together with enforcement would come at a substantial cost to the State - all for a relatively small number of vehicles. It is estimated by the NTA that there are 1,000 rickshaws in Dublin.
Perhaps the biggest concern for me is the challenge in defining the rickshaw vehicle in law. The rickshaw is driven on the public road. This means, if we want to regulate them, that we first must amend road traffic legislation. Since there is extensive litigation under that legislation, we must be exact as to how we define a vehicle.
As the committee will be aware, there are different types of rickshaw – some are pedal powered and some have a motor. The NTA advises that pedal powered rickshaws can easily be converted to motorised, in fact, within minutes, by attaching a small motor to the back axle. The motor can be removed just as quickly. One actually can change the creature within a few minutes. All this means that any new legislation for rickshaws will need to be developed with extreme care. Of course, the new regime will bring benefits but it will be costly to implement, and it may well prove difficult to enforce in a meaningful way.
Allegations of dangerous driving by rickshaws, illegal movements in pedestrian zones and fears about public safety are growing all the time. A ban on rickshaws on the public road would deal comprehensively with these concerns. It would be a significant step forward in managing the risk for public safety.
New legislation would be needed but enforcement of a ban should cost significantly less than implementing a full new regulatory regime. We would still have to define the rickshaw vehicle in law, and provide for detention powers, but this would involve a much simpler piece of legislation. Enforcement should also be less resource intensive - the NTA would not need extra staff and gardaí could be empowered to act decisively when coming upon a rickshaw on a public road.
After a transition period, it seems likely that rickshaws would disappear from our streets. I am aware that some members of the public would be inconvenienced and it is true that with a ban, our cities could miss out on the sense of adventure and fun that rickshaws can bring.
I am conscious also that there are compliant people who earn a legitimate living from these services and that a ban would have an adverse impact on them. A small number of operators reported in the survey that they have invested in significant numbers of rickshaws and there are also many drivers who work part-time in the sector. Impacts would all have to be carefully weighed.
As this issue was raised first by members of this committee in the Dáil, I do not want to take a decision before seriously consulting what they have to say. It is not an issue, as far as I am concerned, that will be politically divisive. It is merely something on which we can combine to address and resolve. If members here today have suggestions which we have not thought of in the Department and have not been thought of by the NTA, the Garda any of the other stakeholders or the operators themselves, let us have them and let us include them because the complications in addressing this issue have been somewhat surprising and it has not been as simple as it seemed it was the day that I accepted Deputy Munster's amendment in the Dáil.
Equally, I am conscious of the intentions of the Dáil as expressed in the adoption of Deputy Munster’s amendment. I share deep concerns about the hazards of rickshaws. Regulation could be effective if implemented using comprehensive and tight controls, but this would come at a cost. Given the very small proportion of the market being served by rickshaws, the preferred approach would be to opt for an outright ban. It is believed it will achieve the desired outcome of improved public safety at a proportionate cost for the taxpayer.
However, this option is not entirely without obstacles. My officials are engaging with the Office of the Attorney General to consider the blockages which might arise with the preferred approach, including how best to weigh and balance private interests in the context of the public good.
Members here will say that legal advice causes delay. It always does, but I will not introduce a law which is subject to challenge because then, rightly, I would be told I had rushed it in circumstances where it was not essential. I know that I need to be clear, not only that the right decision is being made but that it is being made in the right way and that it is legally viable.
Once consultations with the Office of the Attorney General are complete, I expect to be in a position to finalise and announce my decision before the end of this Dáil term. In the meantime, I wish to put the rickshaw sector on notice that, whether by regulation or prohibition, the days of indulging a reckless activity that appears to be running amok are coming to a close.
I thank the Minister. The order of speakers will be as follows: Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and then the Independents.
I will ask the Minister for some information which is not in his statement. How many rickshaw operators does the Department estimate there are?
What are the implications of a ban? If the Minister banned them, would that have implications for those who have been legitimately investing in them? Would they have a claim for compensation for loss of earnings or loss of income? The Minister need not answer these questions now.
I think I can answer that. That is one of the issues which the Attorney General is considering. I do not know everything the Attorney General is considering but there are two issues which obviously come to mind. The first is the ownership of the property and the right to the ownership of the property and whether it has implications for those owners, and whether compensation would have to be paid or whether we can even do it in those circumstances. The second is the issue of the people's right to work. To be depriving them of a living has possible constitutional implications as well. Those two matters are being considered.
They also have human implications as well. There are obviously people earning a legitimate living driving rickshaws and presumably doing all the right things, and what we do not know is how many are doing that and how many are not.
I thank the Minister for his statement. It is clear that both he and his Department have given this issue thorough thought. I welcome what he has said about it and that he is putting the operators and drivers on notice. It is clear that he is close to making a decision and I appreciate him consulting us, particularly Deputy Imelda Munster who proposed the legislation. In politics people might forgive the making of a wrong decision, but they will not forgive not making a decision. It is incumbent, therefore, on the Minister and the Department to make a decision on this matter which has been ongoing for quite a few years. Rickshaws pose a danger to the public. It is clear from the National Transport Authority survey, in which 57% of people said they had been involved in either an accident or a near miss, that rickshaws are a danger to the public. If this statistic was related to any other mode or means of public transport, for example, taxis, we would have representatives of all of the taxi associations before us in the morning. The figure of 57% for persons who were involved in an accident or a near misses cannot be understated in any way. The issue is incredibly serious and it does not even start to take into account the issues exposed by Conor Lally in The Irish Timesand the RTÉ investigations and exposés about the widespread dealing of drugs from these vehicles. It is clear to me and the public that something needs to be done about it. Some 4,800 responses to the public consultation process is a remarkable number. On the breakdown of the data, in his submissin the Minister gives one subcategory - that 54% favour an outright ban, whereas only 38% favour some form of regulation. That gives a total figure of 92%. I presume the remaining 8% favoured retaining the status quo. Is that right?
On the other questions, would it be possible to supply us with a breakdown in tablular format of how people responded to the other questions in the public consultation process? It would be appreciated. It is clear to me that if 92% favour a change, it breaks down 40:60, with 40% wanting regulation and 60% a complete ban. I wonder what the 40%, or 38% overall in the survey, would say if the Minister only gave them a binary choice between a ban and keeping it as it is? It is clear that regulation would be fraught with unforeseen difficulties with regard to rights of property and of the individual to work. As it stands, on the challenges the Minister sees and the length of time we have devoted to the issue, is the Minister in favour of a ban? Would he prefer the Oireachtas to proceed in that manner? Would he prefer to see further related amendments to the Road Traffic Act? It is clear to me that regulation for such a small industry which would be fraught with difficulties that the Minister has outlined and which I have reiterated would be deeply impractical. I have never been to another European city, or any city, where I have seen rickshaws operate in such a haphazard manner which puts passengers and pedestrians in danger. This issue is raised frequently in my constituency office and clinics. It is of concern to the wider public. In politics we often talk about resolving the bigger issues of housing, the health service and so on, but what would it say if, after two and a half years of this Dáil, I were to go back to people and say I could not even tackle the issue of rickshaws in Dublin city centre, given that 57% have reported that they have either been involved in an accident or a near miss? Time is of the essence. I would appreciate hearing the Minister's personal thoughts on whether we should proceed in a more wholehearted manner towards a ban, as opposed to tinkering with the idea of regulation any further.
The Minister has said he does not want to be accused of rushing any legislation. In his over two years as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport he has brought forward two Bills. Therefore, no one will accuse him of rushing legislation. He can relax on that score. As far back as 2013 Dublin City Council tried to bring forward by-laws for rickshaws and we are still discussing the issue. In December 2017 my colleague, Deputy Imelda Munster, and I brought forward an amendment to the legislation that was going through. On 14 December 2017 the Minister said: "I appeal to the Deputies to withdraw their proposals at this point to allow the NTA to develop a comprehensive response and to introduce legislation under the right Act to regulate rickshaws." The Government tried to vote down the amendment, but, unfortunately for the Minister, or fortunately for those who were trying to have regulations introduced, we won the vote on it. Two months later I asked the Minister how plans were coming on for the regulation of the industry and the timeframe for commencing the regulations. He replied: "I share the Deputy's concerns about the need for regulation of rickshaws, but it would not be appropriate to commence Section 31 of the Road Traffic Act 2016 before (1) the legal position is clarified and (2) I have considered the NTA's proposals on an appropriate and robust regulatory framework for rickshaws." I asked again on 16 May 2017 and the Minister said: "I share the Deputy's concerns about the need for regulation of rickshaws and I hope to finalise my consideration of both the legal advice and the NTA proposals shortly." In July 2017 I again asked how things were coming along again and the Minister said:
I am proceeding with the drafting of the Heads of a Bill to provide for a new Part to be inserted into the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 exclusively for the regulation of rickshaws. The approach will, amongst other things, ensure that the relevant interactions with the existing legislative framework under the 2013 Act for small public service vehicles (taxis, hackneys and limousines) are properly integrated; the definition of 'rickshaw' will encompass all known types of rickshaw, in particular the most prevalent type of rickshaw in operation which has an electric motor which provides assistance to the person pedalling the rickshaw, and the principles and policies will be set out in primary legislation as to the matters which the NTA may provide for in regulations, thereby giving the NTA the necessary powers to regulate.
That was in July last year. At the beginning of this year, on 16 January, I asked how things were coming along. The Minister replied that it was his intention to progress the drafting of the heads of a Bill without delay. It is evident that there has been much procrastination within the Minister's Department. Meanwhile, both he and Deputy Noel Rock are right that there have been many unfortunate instances, that there has been criminal activity and that people have been put at risk by the lack of action by the Minister and the Department in prioritising this work. I am not convinced that an outright ban is the correct way to go. There is merit - judging by his replies to me in the past 18 months, the Minister thought there was merit - in bringing forward legislation. Last night on Wikipedia I looked at information on rickshaws. The first use of the term dates back to 1879. That is how long they have been in use across the world. If one looks at the section on their use in the 21st century, it states, "The 21st century has seen a resurgence in rickshaws, particularly motorized rickshaws and cycle rickshaws ... They are increasingly being used as an eco-friendly way of short-range transportation, particularly in urban areas".
Rickshaws are being used for tourism because of their novelty value as an entertainment form of transport. Rickshaws and trishaws are used in most large continental European cities, including Vienna, Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Budapest, Milan, Rome, Amsterdam, Oslo, Krakow, Saint Petersburg, Barcelona and Valencia. There are huge opportunities in this regad and the Minister's approach is lazy. What interaction has he had with the authorities in the cities where rickshaws are regulated? Without doubt, they need to be regulated. Operators need to be vetted and insured, the vehicles need to be roadworthy and operators need to be complaint in paying their tax as self employed people. There are many people, particularly students, who see them as an opportunity to supplement their incomes. An Irish company, Ecocabs Ireland, has invested in 12 eco-friendly cabs which are certified roadworthy, safe, fully insured and create employment for 20 people. The Minister needs to go back to the drawing board and to bring urgency to address of this issue. We know from reports in The Irish Timesand from the RTÉ "Prime Time" exposé that there are practices that need to be rooted out but we know also that there are huge opportunities here. If people had to pay a licence fee for such vehicles, that yield would cover the costs associated with same.
As the Minister is aware, this problem has been on the radar for years. As mentioned by Deputy Troy, many countries have managed to regulate rickshaws. They enhance tourism and the experience for tourists, with a huge increase in take-up at weekends. They are an additional form of transport for students and so on. Many countries have managed to regulate rickshaws. Is the Minister saying that there is no expertise within his Department to do this or that he cannot be bothered to regulate by amendment of road traffic legislation, as per the amendment put to him 18 months ago? As I said, this problem has been on the radar for a long time but up to now nothing has been done. The Minister has come up with every excuse under the sun not to regulate. Following on from his opening statement, it appears to me that he is leaning towards an outright ban of rickshaws. That is the wrong approach.
The Minister has not updated the committee on the outcome of the public consultation. He stated earlier that he has instructed his Department to conduct international research and to consider regulatory models in other EU member states but he also did not bother to furnish the committee with that analysis. Will he supply a copy of those documents? The amendments put forward by Deputy Troy and I sought to bring about regulation of this area. The Minister's argument for banning rickshaws is based on safety issues such as that they block footpaths, weave in and out of traffic, do not have proper lighting and are not insured, particularly for passengers. However, the reason for these issues is the lack of regulation. Rather than regulate, the Minister is taking the lazy option of banning them. If other countries can regulate, so can we. The Minister needs to try to keep up with other countries. If it is the case that the expertise in this regard is not available within the Department then the Minister should say so. Otherwise, it appears he is just not bothered to regulate.
As I said, my amendment sought to regulate rickshaws, which would deal with the safety issues. Other Deputies are of the same opinion. We are asking the Minister to regulate them. Also, there are jobs at stake. If there are 1,000 rickshaws, then, unless they are in people's gardens filled with bedding plants, there are 1,000 drivers. That is a conservative estimate.
If it is mostly student activity, and I understand it is, then a rickshaw might be being operated part time by up to five students. With proper regulation, people on low incomes could supplement their incomes from operating rickshaws.
One would get the impression from the discussion thus far that rickshaws are only being operated in Dublin but that is not the case. For example, rickshaws are being operated in Cork. Earlier this year, 19 rickshaws were seized as part of a Garda operation, conducted jointly with the Revenue Commissioners. There are three options open to us: first, we can allow the current situation to continue; second, we can heavily regulate the trade;, and, third, we can ban rickshaws. The first option is a non-runner. In a survey of people who have been passengers on rickshaws, 57% indicated that the rickshaw had been involved in an accident or a near-miss, which is an incredible statistic. Approximately 44% of those surveyed reported a lack of transparency regarding charges, with people being told a price for a group only to be told later that the price quoted was per person. As I said, the first option is a non-runner.
On regulation, the Minister has pointed to the volume of work and cost involved in this regard, which I accept are points that need to be weighed.
Rickshaw drivers are in competition with taxi drivers to a certain extent. One could talk about a level playing pitch, with regulation for taxi drivers and rickshaws. This would involve up to 20 things, one of which is public liability insurance. Some 57% of rickshaw drivers have had accidents or near accidents but not many have public liability insurance so it is an absolute must. An NCT-style system whereby drivers would have work permits is also an idea.
It is legitimate to ask whether regulations to bring about a level playing pitch would cause the rickshaw industry to collapse. I would ask whether the industry was only able to be operated on the basis of exploitation, cost-cutting and dangerous practices. Examples from other countries and cities where the system works have been provided. However, we are talking about Ireland - specifically, Dublin, Cork and other places. If there was serious regulation, I would question whether the industry would be able to survive. That might point towards the idea of an outright ban and we would be open to a discussion on this idea but there are issues with that too, the main one being employment. It concerns me that no figures have been produced as to the number of people employed in this field. From the number of rickshaws, it would seem the number employed is more likely to be in the thousands than the hundreds. It is not full-time employment in the vast majority of cases and it involves the sort of a money a student would have to assist them as they go through college. For a lot of the people who do the work, however, I am sure it is the money which pays their rent. If they did not have the income, they would not have the rent and it has unintended, knock-on consequences in that regard.
We would not be prepared to entertain the idea of a ban without some significant provision being put in place in the way of alternative employment, compensation or other measures for people who rely on their job as an income. The status quois a complete non-runner and while we are open to discussing regulation, we would question whether the industry would collapse if it was too serious. We are also open to discussing an outright ban but a serious issue is how to cater for the people who do the work in this industry.
Okay. Having said what I have just said, the rickshaws do provide competition and, with the big urban areas becoming more pedestrianised and having more one-way traffic systems, people find that rickshaws provide a good service. Taxi drivers are doing their best to compete but using a rickshaw to get from A to B can save a third of one's time, although they are not cheap. I will not be looking for an outright ban but I will support previous speakers who called for regulation and legislation.
Rickshaws are also a tourist attraction and we need competition. In central Dublin, the Luas gets the right of way over Dublin Bus at St. Stephen's Green. The one-way systems and pedestrianised roads are an issue for taxi drivers. Rickshaws have to be catered for but I believe that legislation should be put in place. A ban on rickshaws would be like taking the jaunting car tour operators out of Killarney and rickshaws have become synonymous with our major cities. Legislation should be put in place for safety purposes.
This is an issue I have been raising at the Dublin joint policing committee for a number of years. I am not in favour of an outright ban and I believe a middle ground can be achieved. Unless we get to the middle ground, however, I would understand where the Minister is coming from on this matter.
I have always believed that local councils should be able to regulate jaunting cars. There were issues with the number of horse and cart vehicles around the Guinness factory in my area. Eventually, councillors came up with a regulation as to where they would park and what standards would apply, although we were told that this was not for rickshaws. The Minister mentioned the variety of rickshaws but the only ones with which there is a road safety problem are those which are cycled because the motorised ones are covered by the Road Traffic Act and drivers have to have insurance and all the other safety elements. This may not be the case with converted bikes, however.
Rickshaws are also vehicles for hire and that should mean a different approach. There are regulations around taxis, which cannot just go out and ply their trade willy-nilly. People complain to me about rickshaws ripping them off but I tell them not to pay them as they have no right to look for money. If a person gets into one and the driver is wiling to bring him or her around the city, he or she can get out and say "Thanks a lot". It is just hard luck on the driver if the person does not pay because there is no commercial contract if a driver does not have a licence to ply his or her trade in this city. They are street traders and every street trader has to have a licence. I am a firm believer in a licensing regime and that a regulation system will pay for itself with the costs of registering a vehicle and having an NCT each year, as well as applying for a licence and sitting the driving test.
It is up to the Garda Síochána to stop what we saw on RTÉ lately. If that means harassing those who are illegally transporting drugs around the city in rickshaws, so be it. Taxi drivers have complained for years about the joint social welfare, customs, immigration and garda patrols targeting them so why should those who break the law not also be targeted?
That should have been done on an ongoing basis, which might have addressed some of those who have become involved in these activities.
If the Minister wishes, from a health and safety perspective, I would have no problem in supporting him in banning rickshaws overnight as long as regulations were put in place very soon thereafter. I have seen the amendment which we were told could not be implemented. The Department was supposed to come back with an alternative but that was many months ago. My own joint policing committee wrote to the Minister and the NTA to try to ascertain when it could act on this because it is an issue in my area. I have dealt with a number of people who have been injured in accidents involving rickshaws. There is absolutely no comeback against drivers or owners because there is no way to identify them. There is no registration number on the rickshaws and those involved in these accidents disappear as quickly as possible. One woman broke her arm when a rickshaw toppled over, its wheel having come off. The driver simply legged it and left the rickshaw there. There was no way of contacting him or even determining if he was the owner of the rickshaw. There is no mechanism for chasing up drivers or owners.
The Minister said in his opening statement that this is a major resource issue for An Garda Síochána and the NTA. Kevin Street Garda station, one of the stations in the city centre that would cover a lot of the areas in which rickshaws operate, has 46 fewer gardaí than ten years ago. Even with the recent increases, that station only got an extra three gardaí. The Garda station itself is brand new and looks brilliant but there is nobody in it because very few gardaí are based there. I accept that this is not the responsibility of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. It may be under his control in Stepaside but not in this context. That said, he should ask the Minister for Justice and Equality when he will provide additional resources, not just to city centre Garda stations in Dublin, but also to stations in Cork, Galway and Limerick which also have a problem with rickshaws, to enable them to tackle the illegal activities in which some drivers are involved.
I am reluctant, given their quirky contribution to tourism, to ban rickshaws. It is something that people do when they go abroad. I do not get rickshaws in Dublin because I know my way around and I walk but some people enjoy them. We should consider regulating them. When rickshaws first came on the scene in this city, they were sponsored by a company - I think 7 Up - and they were all a standard size and the drivers wore a uniform. Rides were free, with the option of giving a tip to the driver. The rickshaws were basically mobile advertisements. That is something that could be looked at again in the context of regulation. Perhaps rickshaws could carry advertisements as a way of generating funding. Dublin Tourism could use to them to advertise different attractions in the city and the same could apply in Galway or Cork. They could also be used by local authorities rather than just for commercial advertising.
I am very concerned about the state of some of the vehicles that are plying their trade, day in and day out. What goes in this city, particularly at weekends, must be addressed. We have regulated other public service vehicles, including horses-and-carts. We can address both aspects of this. We can tackle the problems while allowing the positive trade to continue.
Thank you, Deputy. Before I invite the Minister to respond, I have a few points to make myself. The first problem is defining a rickshaw. If we want to ban it, we must define it. When is a rickshaw not a rickshaw? Whatever way one defines it, one will find that others will have a different construction. It is hugely important, if we go down the road of regulating them, that we are very clear about what we are doing. We must know exactly what the cost will be. We must determine the number of users, which we do not know at present. We do not know how many rickshaws are operating at present. We know the problems they are causing and we also know about the good things they are doing. There is a balance to be struck here and I welcome the fact that the Minister is here today to listen to the views of committee members on this issue.
If a significant number of rickshaw drivers have been convicted of drug-related offences, that is very serious. However, if drug dealers have rickshaws taken from them tomorrow, they will resort to bicycles or other modes of transport to deliver illegal drugs. The issue is the demand for drugs. In that sense, banning rickshaws will not change the fact that drugs are being dealt on our streets; it will just mean that the vehicles by which they are delivered changes.
A lot of those driving rickshaws are students and others on low incomes who are trying to make a few extra shillings, which is both good and healthy. We must bear that in mind. We may be talking about up to 1,000 part-time jobs which is very important to the economy. The economy benefits from rickshaws but not from those drivers who are breaking the law, including those who are on the road without insurance and who do not adhere to proper safety standards. Clearly that must stop but we need to know more. We also need to look at the rickshaw industry internationally to determine best practice in terms of regulation. We must find out and learn from the experience abroad. Obviously, similar issues would have arisen in other jurisdictions. If we ban them today, they will be replaced tomorrow by something similar. That will not solve the problem. There could also be huge costs involved in compensating owners if rickshaws are banned. Issues have arisen regarding the legal cessation of other activities which involved huge compensation pay outs.
In terms of dealing with cowboy operators, I would not have a problem with insisting that rickshaw owners and drivers have tax clearance certificates and go through the other due diligence processes that apply to taxi drivers. As I said, I welcome the Minister's willingness to come before us to discuss these matters. Would it be possible to designate specific routes for rickshaws initially? Would it be possible to confine them to the area within the canals, for example? Where are they most prevalent and where is the greatest benefit to tourism to be found? I would imagine it is within the city's core. There are ways and means of addressing these issues. I now invite the Minister to respond.
There is an awful lot there. I will try to address points in the order they were made but may end up jumping around a bit. I thank everyone for contributing to this discussion. We have heard completely differing views, which is what I expected, as well as different suggestions as to how we deal with this issue. The deeper one delves into this, the more complications one finds. There are individual and property rights involved here which must not be breached. There are other issues which are simply a matter of right and wrong but above all, there are the dangers that these vehicles pose to the public, with which we must deal. While there is no single, right solution it is principally a matter of public safety. We must find a way to secure public safety, which is endangered at the moment, without causing hardship to those involved in legitimate activities, as a large number of operators undoubtedly are at the moment.
There are a lot of tangential arguments such as the drugs issue which was touched on by "Prime Time" and the article by Mr. Conor Lally which highlighted the problems which have to be recognised, and we cannot just skirt over this. If these vehicles are providing some sort of a channel for drugs, that has to be addressed and recognised and I think that any member of the Garda would say anecdotally that they are doing so because they made 157 charges in that respect. It is a difficult problem and I understand the frustration of those who say it has taken longer than it should, and they are right. It has taken too long and much longer than I intended. The day I accepted Deputy Munster's amendment I intended it to come into law there and then. It is quite unusual for a Minister to accept an amendment from the Opposition but I did it with the clear intention of sorting out this problem there and then. It became apparent over a period of a few months that it was not as simple as that and that there were real legal difficulties in what was proposed which could have ended in disaster. That is what we are trying to avoid. There have been different aspects to this as time goes on which have frustrated it. Some of them are legal, some of them are interventions elsewhere, but we will get it right and that is what is important.
Deputy Rock asked what my instinct was and because of the evidence of the NTA survey, my own experience and other evidence from many stakeholders, my instinct was that the best option at the moment, not the ultimate solution because there is no ultimate solution, is that they should not be operating, certainly not in the way they are, and the most sensible way to stop that is to prohibit them. If regulation is a more practical and not too expensive solution, we will actively consider that as well. My guess is that the majority of people in the committee are talking about regulation. I am not sure which way the Dáil would go on that but the great value of this discussion is that I do not want to introduce a measure into the Dáil which will be defeated. That is something I will not do, that would be foolishness and would frustrate the process of enhancing public safety. That is why what the committee members say today is very valuable.
I refer to the issue that Deputy Rock raised. I agree that I have to bear in mind the fact that that consultation, which involved more than 4,000 people, came in fairly decisively, 54% to 38%, that the people involved wanted these rickshaws banned. That is the reality and we have to take that into account. I take into account what Deputy Rock says and it is serious but only 38% want the status quo. That means it is urgent and it has to be done as quickly as possible. There is public dissatisfaction which is shared by members of the committee. The status quowill not stay for any longer than is necessary.
I refer to public consultation. I am not hiding that from anybody. I will have the public consultation document from the NTA circulated today or tomorrow, if that is all right for everybody. That is no problem at all.
I refer to the final question from Deputy Rock. My preferred option on balance is that there is not a continuation of what is going on at the moment and the cleanest way to do that is to ban them, but I am conscious of what Deputies Barry, Ó Snodaigh and O'Dowd said as well that there are people in legitimate employment there and it is a serious measure to take to put them out of a job because of what is going on there. Maybe they have alternatives and there are other factors at play but that is something that I am conscious of, not just because of the constitutional right to work or possible constitutional right to work but because to take people out of a job is a dramatic thing to do and not something I want to do.
I have a couple of figures here about the employees. There are around 1,000 rickshaws in Ireland. I do not know how many are in Cork but nearly all of them are in Dublin. A total of 53% of the operators said they worked part time. Full-time stood at only 15% but it is very difficult and this is one of the problems about delay, because we are working in a world of late-night activities and people who are not easy to trace. It is very difficult to get statistics and the NTA figures, which are presumably the best ones we have at the moment, are gathered in those circumstances. Those people are not working in a normal working environment so sometimes it is difficult to trace who they are and to gather information on them. Until we have information which we can rely on as credible, it would be foolish to rush into decisions and I simply will not do that, despite the frustrations of some others.
Deputy Troy wants to regulate and when he says that he blames me, the Department and others for that, which is fine. I accept that it has gone on for much longer than I wanted it to but there has not been any delay on the part of Departments. Rather it has been due to a lot of complications which I hope I have explained, one of which is that the NTA wants to regulate them and the Department wants to ban them. That is very healthy but it means that both decisions have to be considered very carefully and there is no reason that sort of debate between the NTA and the Department should not be going on.
I accept the criticisms of it being delayed. That is frustrating and it may be a while before we get a final legal opinion but I will not take a decision until the legal opinion has come to me. Deputy Troy asked about the interaction with authorities overseas. They have not travelled overseas. It was a desk study but it was done very thoroughly. I do not think-----
I will issue the report with all of the facts about that. I have said that already. To say I would go back to the drawing board is somewhat unrealistic. That would cause further delay and I want to go full steam ahead. Deputy Troy said I should go back to the drawing board. I have it down in quotes. If he says he did not say it, it does not matter.
We can check the record. Did the Minister take down all the quotes I rehashed about what he has said to me during the past 18 months? Perhaps it might be more appropriate for the Minister to concentrate his efforts in that area.
Deputy Troy has not had the opportunity to be in that seat yet.
I will address the point made by Deputy Munster. It does not help to be throwing around facts that are not true. Deputy Munster said that every other country regulates in this area. That is not true. Has Deputy Munster heard of London?
London does not regulate and that is important. Deputy Munster said that jobs are at stake and she is right. Of course that is an important consideration. It is a consideration high on my priorities.
Deputy Barry referred to the question of putting the sector on a level playing pitch with taxis. That is an idea I would not rule out but I am unsure how it would work in practical terms. I am unsure whether there is competition between the operators at the moment because rickshaws operate on a short-term basis. The average journey is ten minutes and the average price for a rickshaw is €15.62 for a fare. I do not think they are competing. Taxi drivers regard them as a thorough nuisance because they are in the way, they take up the taxi ranks and they may be taking short-term business from the taxi drivers. Taxi drivers regard rickshaw operators as unfair competition because they are not licensed or insured and they are not obliged to do all the things taxis have to do. It may be a possibility to put them on a level playing pitch but they are somewhat different creatures. I take the Deputy's point about employment but I remind the committee about what I have said. According to the NTA survey, 15% appear to be full-time.
Reference was made to the Garda figures. They are pretty telling. I am unsure how far I am allowed to go with them, but I have some detail on the status of the 154 incidents. Some 41 cases have been convicted and 11 were struck out or dismissed. A total of 17 bench warrants have been issued, 46 are ongoing before the courts and 30 are waiting analysis. A total of eight people cannot be located. Drugs seized include all the usual drugs, like cocaine, ecstasy and so on. Given the number of convictions and cases before the courts as well as the number of cases struck out and dismissed, there is obviously a serious problem. That has to be considered when we are making a decision between regulating and banning. It is only a consideration but obviously it is a big problem.
I wish to respond to what Deputy Barry has said. I took a trip on the rickshaws myself not long ago late at night.
I was stopped by gardaí as I approached them. They were wondering what I was up to. I said I was simply doing work. I took a trip and I was rather shocked by what I found. It confirmed everything that I had heard. I made a note afterwards, which I have before me.
I will meet Deputy Mattie McGrath in a different venue. They charged me €10 from Georges Street to St. Stephen's Green on the first trip. The driver certainly broke traffic lights willy-nilly. It was not comfortable. When I asked for the price on the return journey, however, the operator said it was whatever I liked, which was an extraordinary response. The person broke virtually every rule in the book. The rickshaw was going on the footpath along St. Stephen's Green at great speed and then over the pedestrian crossing on red. The operator treated red lights as if they did not exist and drove on the tram lines. Then, when I got out, I walked down Wicklow Street and there was a rickshaw travelling the wrong way up a one-way street. My experience of this is that-----
Perhaps, but I would have been the first fatality and I imagine Deputy Barry would have regretted it. My experience is only anecdotal and only from one night, but it is a pretty bad situation and it badly needs remedy. I am unsure whether it can be done by regulation. I am not going to do it again.
Let me get back to the question from Deputy O'Keeffe. He referred to competition in the market. I am unsure about the competition argument because he was referring to taxi drivers competing with these people. I am unsure about the competition argument because they do such a different job. I gather that the maximum time taken is approximately 30 minutes. We can see this in the survey data as well. On the whole the rickshaws undertake short journeys that taxis would not do. Taxis are not driving up footpaths the wrong way either. I think the competition argument does not really apply. I had a meeting with stakeholders the other day that was attended by a large number of taxi drivers. They were vociferous about the rickshaws. They maintain the rickshaws are dangerous, they get in the way, they are not licensed or insured and so on but they are not competing directly with taxi drivers.
I know Deputy Ó Snodaigh has been interested in this for a long time and I appreciate that. The local council argument is interesting, and we have looked at it. Deputy Ó Snodaigh will be aware of the fact that they use by-laws in Galway to do that and I gather it worked. We have looked at that and we are going to talk again to those responsible. Dublin City Council, of which Deputy Ó Snodaigh was a member for a long time, had maintained rigidly in writing that this is a national issue and the council does not want to handle it.
We cannot funk it if the authority refuses to handle it, but we will speak to those people again before we make a decision to see if there is any possibility of them using the same type of by-laws. The council is saying it is a national issue and it will not do it. We cannot immediately expect a local authority to use by-laws to regulate rickshaws and we have legal advice that its by-laws would not extend to this level of detailed licensing. Certainly, it would not have powers to seize a vehicle for enforcement. There are obstacles to that. It worked in Galway but Dublin appears to be very reluctant and the authority has indicated it will not do it.
Enforcement has been mentioned and it is a problem. There is no point is saying it is not. The road traffic corps is being increased and it will improve fairly rapidly this year, but it is behind. Enforcement has been a problem for some time and it has been a problem for the corps in enforcing drink-driving laws as well. It is being remedied but it has been a problem. The Chairman is right in that one of the problems with any legislation of this sort, whether the vehicle is to be regulated or banned, is defining the vehicle. These are not defined in law at all currently and there is a switching between them being bicycles and motorised vehicles, which is very unsatisfactory.
Yes. They only go for a maximum of 30 minutes and that would be exceptional. They only go around a small area with nightclubs, pubs and other places of entertainment. The activity is confined to that area. One of the reasons there has not been many fatal accidents is because it is such a small area and some of it is pedestrianised. They use those pedestrianised areas as well.
I did a quick check and the Minister mentioned London. I referred to the list from Deputy Troy. These vehicles may legally operate inside London as stage carriers under the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869. They can also apply for hire on any street in greater London charging fares per passenger. Outside London there are pedicabs that are classified as hackney cabs. There is clearly some regulation, although probably not enough. We have none here.
The Minister wrote to the committee asking for an opportunity to come before the committee to speak to the amendment of the Railway Safety Act. In the first session I asked permission of the members-----
If we go down the road of regulation, it would be useful. Taxis have onerous responsibilities and must comply with certain regulations. We should apply at least the same to plying this trade. In particular, there should be Garda vetting. There should be nobody with a history of the offences that some of the people have who are working with these rickshaws. The Minister mentioned there are people with bench warrants issued because they probably cannot be tracked. Others have been convicted of more serious crimes but are rickshaw drivers. They should not be able to ply this trade.
Compensation has also been mentioned. The vast majority of rickshaws are not paying tax so they would not be entitled to much compensation. Much of this is done on the black market. I would not shy away from this just on the basis of compensation if the decision is to ban it outright and approach it with regulation afterwards. I look forward to seeing what comes from the Department in the very near future.
I agree with the Deputy's point with regard to Garda vetting and the drivers being vetted to the same level as those who drive any public service vehicle. I appeal to the Minister to accelerate these efforts and make a decision. I suggest he goes with the proposal of the National Transport Authority, NTA, with regulations being introduced. It is the best way forward. Further procrastination is not on.
The Minister wishes to progress pre-legislative scrutiny for the amended Railway Safety Act. I read somewhere recently that it has been brought to Cabinet for approval. There is no disagreement or issue with this. I cannot see any reason for this not to be supported. I question the priorities of the Minister to a matter like this. I tabled a parliamentary question and not one person has been found in breach of the Act in the past five years. What are the priorities when with rickshaws we have no regulation or legislation in an area where there is a priority need to introduce regulation? The Minister seems to have a focus in bringing forward proposals that might look good but in reality are not making a major difference.
The Deputy does not expect me to agree with that. I do not want to let that go. I point out to the Deputy that for the second time he has miscounted the number of pieces of legislation I have introduced. I corrected him the last time and I will do it again.
I have introduced more legislation than the Deputy mentioned and it is the second time he has done that. The rail safety legislation arises because the Commissioner for Rail Regulation was concerned about it and wants the Bill to be introduced. It is urgent and it will be introduced. We will introduce more legislation and we will have heads of a Bill for speeding legislation this year. Every piece of safety legislation is urgent and will have to be done.