Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport

Issues Impacting the Taxi Industry: Discussion

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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The purpose of today's meeting is to discuss issues impacting the taxi industry. Before we begin I want to welcome our new clerk to the committee, Iqra Zainul Abedin.

Today I am pleased to welcome, on behalf of the committee, Mr. Alan Cooley, Mr. James Maguire, Mr. Philip Egan and Mr. Des Dempsey from the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation; Mr. Alan Brennan and Mr. David McGuinness from Tiománai Tacsaí na hÉireann; Mr. Kevin Barrett from the Taxi Alliance of Ireland, who is attending remotely; and Mr. Jim Waldron from the National Private Hire and Taxi Association.

Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to any person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also remind members of the constitutional requirement that they be physically present within the confines of the Leinster House complex to participate in public meetings. I will not permit a member to participate where he or she is not able to meet this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I ask any member participating using Microsoft Teams to confirm that he or she is on the grounds of the Leinster House campus prior to making his or her contribution. If attending in the committee room, members are asked to exercise personal responsibility to protect themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19.

I now invite Mr. Cooley to make an opening statement on behalf of the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

I thank the Chairman and committee members for the invitation to speak here today. My name is Alan Cooley and I am the president of the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation. I am joined by Mr. Philip Egan, our secretary, Mr. Des Dempsey, our assistant secretary, and Mr. James Maguire, our airport representative. We are grateful for the opportunity to appear before the committee to share our views on the taxi industry. The main points we wish to discuss today are the extension of the nine-year rule, the transfer of taxi licences, credit cards, the lack of suitability centres across the country, and the Uber situation in Ireland.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Thank you, Mr. Cooley. I now invite Mr. McGuinness to make an opening statement on behalf of Tiománai Tacsaí na hÉireann.

Mr. David McGuinness:

I also thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to address the committee today on issues affecting the taxi sector.

At the outset of the pandemic, we requested a five-year extension of the vehicle age for all vehicles to include new vehicles with loans attached and older vehicles due to exit the sector. Currently we have an electric vehicle, EV, grant. However, stock has become a real issue. Drivers with older vehicles cannot source an electric vehicle. If the operator changes vehicle in the short term due to end of vehicle life, the vehicle purchased may not meet the criteria for the EV grant. We have requested a common-sense approach, leaving operators in existing vehicles until EVs become available. We have written to the Minister for Transport with this request and so far received no reply.

It is our view the sector needs to be incorporated into the public transport system. Taxis are the only 365-days-per-year, 24-hour, door-to-door transport service. This would lead to inclusion at large-scale events, resulting in temporary taxi stands and set-down and drop-off facilities. Currently large venues throughout Dublin have no taxi stands or set-down or drop-off areas resulting in operators not offering their services at the venues. Difficulties with parking and the threat of being fined are some of the reasons operators quoted. Dublin City Council's lack of engagement with the taxi sector at major public events needs to be addressed.

Tiománaí Tacsaí na hÉireann resigned its seat on the taxi advisory committee, TAC, during the early months of the pandemic. It is our view the sector should be in a negotiation position as opposed to an advisory position with the Department of Transport. We requested changes to the committee subsequent to our resignation but all were refused. Many of the proposals we submitted to the Department and the TAC were not adopted. The TAC needs to be disbanded for a national transport forum that allows all bodies that provide public transport to input positively to the transport system of Ireland.

Currently licences are non-transferable except on the death of the licence holder. Up until this decision, a taxi operator saw his or her licence as a business with the opportunity to build a small business to be shared or passed on to a suitable family member and, therefore, bringing younger generations into the sector. As this is no longer possible until after death, many drivers see the licence as a way of earning a weekly wage and do not see it as a small-business opportunity.

Mr. Kevin Barrett:

I thank the Chairman and the committee for inviting me. I am a representative of the Taxi Alliance of Ireland, operating in County Tipperary and I have worked in the industry for nearly 30 years. I will bring some of the issues forward to the Chairman.

There are a large number of illegal operators throughout the country. In the past 12 months, we have had success in catching some of these individuals with the help of the Garda and National Transport Authority, NTA, enforcement officers. However, many of these illegal operators continue to work as the Garda and the NTA do not have the resources to catch all of them. One way to resolve this issue is the establishment of a transport police with the powers to deal with this issue and the resources to deal with this problem on a permanent basis. In order for more people to join the taxi industry, especially in rural Ireland, these illegal operators need to be dealt with immediately before we lose more drivers. For example, a person was caught six months ago, taken to court and prosecuted, got a €200 fine and was operating the night after. That has to be stopped.

Another issue I will bring to the attention of the committee is the buy-back of taxi plates. We need to make this process easier to engage in to recruit more taxi drivers to the industry, . At present, if a driver retires or leaves the industry, the driver cannot transfer his or her small public service vehicle, SPSV, plate to another individual. If a transfer of plate and other business areas such as phone and cars were easier, it would entice people to join the industry.

To provide more SPSV operators available for closing time of pubs and nightclubs, we need to get the committee to consider asking the Licensed Vintners Association to come forward with a proposal to stagger the closing times of these establishments. This would reduce the number of people looking for taxis all at once at peak times on the weekends. It would also reduce stress on taxi drivers trying to provide a service as they can become overwhelmed with people trying to get taxis at those peak times.

The Taxi Alliance of Ireland is a voluntary organisation to help the SPSV industry for urban and rural Ireland. We want to our industry to be as professional as any other industry in our country. The committee should feel free to ask me any issues about the above issues.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

I ask that the committee forgive me if some of this is repetitive because we all have the same problems. The National Private Hire and Taxi Association, NPHTA, has met many Members of Parliament in recent times and we have made presentations, including in the audiovisual room, to try to get the extension of vehicle age limits. We are here today to highlight these ongoing issues within our industry, which are impacting on the high professional standards set over previous years.

A total of 5,000 drivers are facing hardship and stress and the possibility of being forced out of our industry because of vehicle age limits. This would mean longer wait times for the public if even a small percentage of these people leave the industry. While work volumes have surged over previous months, especially at nighttime, many drivers are not in a position to borrow large sums to invest in a new electric vehicle - that is if they can find one. There are many challenges with the grant scheme and we would like a discussion on how to make it more accessible to drivers. We have had no input to the present process.

Used car costs have increased 60% according to car magazines. Fuel costs have reached an all time high. Service costs have risen and use of cashless payments mean less take-home pay for drivers, despite the recent fare increase. Taxi drivers are facing the same cost-of-living challenges that all other sectors face. These conditions are screaming out for a further extension of age limits to allow drivers time to recoup losses and build a financial footing to move forward with a newer vehicle, preferably an electric one. Extension of age limits would not, and should not, lower standards.

A driver with terminal illness or maybe a stroke is not allowed transfer his or her licence and must keep it active, meaning he or she must be fully licensed and insured, which obviously incurs costs at a time of no income. The driver is possibly dying and it may happen over a period of days, weeks, months or even years. Why can this licence holder not transfer the licence before death? If a licence goes into inactive status it cannot be inherited. An inherited licence must be availed of within nine months. This is a time of mourning and should be extended to at least 12 months.

All taxis have to do a national car test, NCT, once or sometimes twice per year. They then must wait 48 hours before returning to the same test centre to have the taxi-suitability test carried out by the same person in the same place. This should be done at the same time and, therefore, cut down time and expense for drivers. It could all be done in one visit.

Security of drivers is a continuous concern. The NPHTA, for years, has requested a garda liaison officer to work with representative bodies. Our requests continue to go unheard. The NTA should also be considering providing drivers with security systems and advice. Assaults on drivers are common in our workplace. When has the NTA ever taken a case on behalf of a taxi driver? Generally drivers just have to suck it up.

Passenger security should remain a priority of law makers. Strict vetting of entrants, while this could be quicker, should not be overlooked and possibly even be strengthened. Some legislative changes are being considered at present, but it would help if there were marshalled, better-located and properly-lit taxi ranks with CCTV monitoring. This could be considered.

An example is College Green, which is right beside the Temple Bar area. Rideshare, Uber-style, by unlicensed drivers should not be entertained. The safety record for this type of service shows thousands of sexual assaults by unvetted drivers who provided this service. Passenger demands must be discussed in the context of what passenger expectations are, how overall transport policy needs to be adapted and that pub opening and closing times also need to be adapted. Free access to the Dublin Port tunnel should be considered as a benefit to passengers and the environment.

We recently heard about arrangements for the Garth Brooks concert. We contacted the NTA to ask what provision had been made for taxis and the response was that the coach parking and pick-up points were outside the Garda cordon and located approximately 25 minutes' walk from the stadium. We were told taxis would not be allowed inside the Garda cordon and that we could operate as normal. This highlights the lack of consideration planners have given to our sector. Taxis continue to be overlooked. No major events should be allowed to take place unless SPSVs are considered as part of the transport planning.

In recent years, thousands of drivers have protested against the Taxi Advisory Committee, TAC, which continues to fail drivers. Throughout Covid it was never proactive only reactive. It took our appearance before the Covid committee to get some supports. Despite the fact that minutes are now being published, the committee is far from transparent. Lots of the matters I outlined - those that truly affect taxi drivers - should have been discussed and presented to the Minister for future support. It is as if nothing happened in the past two years. Our association believes representatives of taxi drivers should regularly meet the Minister and the NTA to promote better public transport services. Transport providers should have a forum in which to present to policymakers.

I read in TheSunday Timesnewspaper that the Government is to help with the challenges of the cost of living and is considering financial subsidies, grants and loans to small businesses. Taxi drivers have been overlooked in the past. Our major operating costs are insurance and purchasing a vehicle, which includes VRT and VAT. The NPHTA has partnered with Zego to keep insurance costs down for our members. Along with the vehicle age change, this is the area in which a financial intervention would be most beneficial. I ask members not to overlook us again. I would welcome questions from members.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Waldron. We agreed a rota system last year, whereby once committee members have spoken, we will move to non-members.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We will all try not to rehash statements about the importance of taxi drivers. That is accepted. They are necessary from the point of view of education, hospitals, work and trips, as we heard. We all know what work taxi drivers have done over many years and the issues that arose with supports, in particular during the Covid period. Some of the issues mentioned are long running and still have not been addressed.

The problem for the outside world is that there are not enough taxi drivers when people want a taxi. Mr. Waldron spoke about the issues drivers face, including high costs and the ten-year rule. Safety and security seem to be a major issue, in particular for the small number of drivers who are wiling to work after 12 midnight. What would a fit-for-purpose EV grant scheme look like? We all thought there would be some leeway, in particular during Covid, on the age-of-car rule, but there has not been a huge amount of give in regard to that. What would be a fair ask in that regard to put into the public domain?

Mr. David McGuinness:

A fair ask in regard to the grant is that there should be enough electric vehicles to deal with the availability.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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That is the other problem.

Mr. David McGuinness:

That would be a start. I know drivers who applied for the grant in the first phase, and a car is still not available to attach the grant to. While the grant is in place, it is of no use to drivers if the vehicles are not available. The problems the drivers are facing into are that they are driving vehicles that are coming to the end of their life under the ten-year rule.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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They are looking to switch to electric vehicles, which everyone wants to do, but cannot do so because there is not enough supply.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Yes. The problem is that they may have to opt for a second-hand vehicle, the cost of which has exploded in the past two years.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Yes, they cannot get those either.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Changing to a second-hand vehicle excludes drivers from the grant for three years because, as a licensed taxi, a vehicle must be licensed for three years before a driver can avail of a grant. What drivers are being asked to do is pay out a substantial amount of money, which would exclude them from the grant they have been waiting for in the first place.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The three-year rule is a problem, but if someone has bought a second-hand car, a significant amount of money will have been put into it, which means taxi drivers have committed for a number of years anyway. Leeway is needed. At the end of the day, we are talking about cars that are going to be checked and rechecked in any event.

Mr. David McGuinness:

To be fair, Mr. Waldron referred to that in his opening statement.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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He did.

Mr. David McGuinness:

At the beginning of the pandemic, we sought an extension for all vehicles because of the cost, and we do so again now. Our costs were not taken away during the pandemic. They were consistent. We still had to pay loans and insurance on vehicles that were not working. Between the four groups sitting in the room, we proposed that a five-year extension would be added to the ten-year rule so as to allow us to come out the other side of the pandemic. The issues faced by taxi drivers were not resolved the day the country opened up again. The issues that we faced over the previous three years are still there. It is hard for drivers to get loans to accompany the grants because most of us received the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, which banks, credit unions and financial organisations do not consider as earned income. Even securing a loan over the next two years until we rebuild our personal finances will be hard. The NTA and the Department of Transport should make a decision quickly on the extension of the ten-year rule.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Mr. McGuinness refers to the supply chain issue for new and even second-hand cars, the cost-of-living scenario and all the rest of it, as well as the fact that even people who have applied for grants are waiting. We are talking about a five-year extension.

Mr. David McGuinness:

That is what we looked for at the start.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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That is a fair ask. Anybody listening in would think that sounds reasonable.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Wheelchair-accessible vehicles are allowed to be 15 years old. There are vehicles the same age.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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There is a precedent.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

If I could add in a comment in regard to the grant, the grant can be up to €20,000, which is very substantial for any driver.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The cost of an EV is also substantial.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

That is very much appreciated as well. I might add that drivers have to borrow the total amount of the cost of the car because they have to wait up to three months to receive the grant. That is a barrier in itself. A driver who wants to buy a car costing €50,000 must borrow €50,000 to buy it. That probably excludes drivers from qualifying for a loan, for example, with their local credit union. They could borrow €30,000 if the grant was more accessible or if there was a way for the NTA to guarantee the credit union that the money could be paid directly to it.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Some means of bridging the gap is necessary. That makes sense, leaving out the supply chain issue. Let us accept the extension of the ten-year rule by an extra five years. In fairness, the three-year rule is a bit mad if someone is doing what he or she has been forced to do. The question is whether we can bridge that gap. Outside of that, is the grant scheme fit for purpose?

As Mr McGuinness touched upon, the other point is that a person's licence could go inactive while he or she is waiting on the electric vehicle, EV, and that would exclude him or her from the grant. Basically, if I put a deposit on a car, I could be waiting six months. The National Transport Authority, NTA, is telling me I have the grant up until December but my licence might run out in November. What I am basically saying is that it should be allowed to be used on a licence that has expired as well so that a guy who wants to come back into the business can use an expired licence or someone who has been forced out of the business can come back in with an expired licence.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Can Mr. Waldron explain the significance? For instance, if someone wants to change to an EV, how long are they waiting now?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Up to nine months.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Okay. Let us say in that period of nine months, a person borrowed the €50,000 to purchase the EV. What is the trigger mechanism to be able to apply for the grant? Can a person renew a licence at any time or must he or she actually own a vehicle? Mr. Waldron might explain what the problems are.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

I can give the Chairman an example of an individual whose licence expires in January. He has been approved for the grant and he has been told that he will not get his car until March.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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So, a person can apply for a grant prior to receiving the car.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

A person can apply for the grant and he or she gets a provisional guarantee of the grant. However, the grant will be no good to this man in March because his car runs out in January. His licence expires in January. A person cannot use an inactive licence. The licence goes inactive in January.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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If this person renews the licence, what is the cost of renewing the licence on the old car?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

He is going to have to renew it on the new car.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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It is second-hand so there is a three-year rule.

Mr. Philip Egan:

He will have to buy a second-hand car before the licence elapses.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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It is just to explain it to the ordinary person who might be listening to the debate.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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That does not make any sense to anybody listening.

Mr. Philip Egan:

It does not make sense.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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People are catching themselves on every rule.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

It should be taken case by case.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Yes.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

In general it is taken with an overall view of all the drivers but it should be taken into account. This happens online. People have nobody to talk to in person to explain their situation.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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If a person has ordered a new car and there is a delay in that new car coming, it is not unreasonable to allow his or her existing car to fill the void until the new car arrives.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

That is common sense.

Mr. Philip Egan:

It is not that common.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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And if the car comes through within two months, a person can move ahead and effectively allow the licensing system to work with that. Is that it in layman's terms?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

That is it.

Mr. David McGuinness:

That is exactly it. On that point, the NTA has extended licences through the pandemic but it always seems to be done at the last minute. We had drivers in 2021 and 2022 who were right up against the wall. It is October, November and December and then they get news. We have had people who brought cheques back to financial institutions because the decision always comes too late. Drivers need to be able to make a plan for the next four, five and six years and not be kept waiting for a late decision.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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It is not unreasonable for the NTA to impose a deadline for people to purchase a new car. The fact that there is a delay in it coming is outside an individual's control.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Exactly.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

It is because it is all disjointed. A person is receiving the car, his or her licence, insurance, finance - everything is all disjointed. It does not all marry up at the same time. This causes the problems

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I am sorry for taking up Deputy Ó Murchú's time. He may continue.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I think it is fair to say that the scheme is not fit for purpose. The witnesses have detailed it so we can put that to-----

Mr. Alan Cooley:

There are good points to the scheme. On paper, it is a great scheme.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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It needs to be changed.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

It needs to be re-reviewed.

Mr. James Maguire:

It needs tweaking.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

I have to ask the question again. Why were the representative groups not part of the decision? Why were they not part of the process? Why were we not consulted about this?

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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It would make sense to talk to the people who would actually be using it and who they actually want to sell it to.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Has Deputy Ó Murchú concluded?

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We might go straight into the safety and security issue, particularly on the basis of the number of taxi drivers about whom the witnesses told me anecdotally will not work at night. I am not always sure what the solutions are here but the witnesses might lay out the particular issues.

Coming as I do from Dundalk, an issue that has been brought to my attention is where guys with northern licences have tried to get the small public service vehicle, SPSV, licence and have not been able to. Now, there are always workarounds people find to that but it seems to be an issue. Have the witnesses come across that?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy might let Mr. Barrett come in on that.

Mr. Kevin Barrett:

We have an issue in our local area, for example. We probably have at least 15 illegal operators in a region with a radius of approximately 30 miles. We have had four prosecutions in the past six months and those four people who were prosecuted were back out operating the night after. They are prosecuted in court. A big factor we need to cure the situation is that insurance companies need to be notified. When people are convicted in court, the insurance companies need to be notified. That is a big factor. People are taken to court and then also being given fines of €200 and €300. They are back out the night after working and earning that again. There has to be something. The courts have to be changed and the fine system has to be changed. Put a minimum fine of €3,000 or €4,000 in place. That certainly hits them in the pocket.

As for the biggest factor we have, while we have enforcement officers coming down from Dublin to do a job on these illegal operators, it is impossible to get the enforcement officers here constantly. Going back 15 or 20 years ago, we had the local public service vehicle, PSV, officer who dealt with these issues. He called to these illegal operators and gave them ultimatums to stop, or else. Something has to be done. We need transport police who can deal with these issues and have the powers to deal with these issues. The enforcement officers only have so much power. There are many ways to try to improve it. If these illegal operators can be taken out then it entices other guys to get into the industry and provides more taxis. Nobody is going to get into the industry when all these illegal operators are working and taking the bread and butter from the guys who are working. More and more guys are leaving the industry.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Barrett. We will move to the other members and they can obviously take up the points. Next up is Senator Craughwell.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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As someone who travels in taxis around Dublin all the time, I believe we are in serious danger of losing the service, or at least the quality and volume of service one would expect. The costs involved in running taxis, between fuel and insurance, seem to have gone through the ceiling. There are companies that lease the cars to drivers but I am not sure how that works. Is that in danger of also being shelved now because of the costs of running those cars? I am not sure whether it is a set figure that drivers pay every month to use the car. With running costs and everything else, are we going to start losing those drivers as well? Where will that leave us?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We might start with Mr. McGuinness, followed by Mr. Waldron and then Mr. Cooley and his colleagues.

Mr. David McGuinness:

The rental sector would not be my area of expertise but I believe drivers pay an amount of money per week to rent the vehicle. It could be up to €250 per week to rent the vehicle. I think the rental sector represents approximately 30% of the industry in total, and 70% of licences are owned by individuals within the sector. The rental sector is on average approximately 30%. I do not know whether they will be affected by the higher costs involved because they operate on a bigger scale and the price is passed on to the individual who is renting the vehicle. As I said at the beginning, our organisation represents single licenceholders. I would not, therefore, know too much regarding the rental sector.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Mr. McGuinness is losing people from the single licence holders as well, is that correct? A number of them are beginning to withdraw now as it is no longer worth their while to be-----

Mr. David McGuinness:

The worrying thing is that during the pandemic, through no fault of their own, approximately 2,000 drivers left the industry. The most worrying thing about that is that not too many of them have come back. That gives an indication of the confidence, or lack thereof, in the industry by drivers who have operated within the sector, many of them for 20 or 30 years. They have chosen a different career path rather than come back to the industry that they have put finance into and served for 30 years. That would be the worrying aspect, that not many of these 2,000 driver who left the industry are willing to come back into it, due to the issues that the Senator mentioned, such as the high costs, lack of security and the vulnerability of the industry in general.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The Senator is right that there are many of the multi-plate owners, as we call them, or multi-licence holders, who are affected by this. They are affected by the ten-year age rule as well. Some of them might have to lay out hundreds of thousands of euro to keep the cars on the road. They are facing the same problems that single-plate licence holders are facing. However, they can pass on much of the cost to the driver who is driving the vehicle. The driver ultimately feels the pain. It will have an effect on the future numbers in the taxi industry. This is why we keep emphasising the age rule. While it affects the single-plate licence holder, it also affects the multi-licence holder and the drivers of those vehicles, because they are being charged more to cover the running costs of the car as well.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Again, in the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation, we do not get involved in the rental market. Our representative, Mr. Maguire, will talk more about that.

Mr. James Maguire:

The rental market has the same overheads as the ordinary guy. However, the driver will pay more money for it at the end of the day. I know of one operator that went out of business and left all of the cars there. There is a disaster coming up at the moment. If the nine-year rule is not extended to 15 years, more than 3,000 cars could be lost in January if drivers cannot get finance. A second-hand car could now cost between €26,000 and €30,000. If this not addressed, it will be a total disaster. The National Transport Authority, NTA, does not seem to want to listen to the plea. This should have been sorted out months ago. Give the lads that were out there having a bad time during Covid a bit of a break so they can get a few quid to build up a sort of a rapport with a credit union or a bank. One cannot force people to go out in January when their licence is gone to borrow that type of money, unless they have a record.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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What will happen if it is not extended?

Mr. James Maguire:

I am telling the committee what will happen. About 3,500 taxis will be lost throughout the country. That is what will happen. It will put so much pressure on the industry. We do not get any help from anyone now through the night. We should have the DART and buses running through the night. If that does not happen, and 3,500 taxis are lost, there will be a big problem. Members are not being told the truth and I am telling the truth.

I am 44 years driving a taxi in Dublin. I have seen the way it has come and gone. I was lucky enough to get a grant and buy an electric vehicle because the electric vehicles were not there. At the moment - take this on board - there are 22 vehicles lying in driveways because they cannot get suitability to get on the road. It is a crazy scenario. They sent SGS over to Ballymount to seal meters instead of bringing SGS to where they were. It has taken perhaps six or seven hours to get through to the suitability and one cannot get it for two or three weeks or something like that. This is already a disaster and it will get worse. We will be back in repeatedly. Unless somebody listens in the NTA, the country is in for a bad time with taxis.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I call Mr. Waldron.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I might say, just listening to the speakers-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Senator Craughwell.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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First and foremost, I have huge empathy-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Senator Craughwell.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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They are in a profession that everybody loves to complain about.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Waldron wishes to make an additional comment before the Senator responds.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The Chair asked a question on what will happen if the age rules are not extended. What will happen is that many of these drivers will put themselves into major financial debt from borrowing to stay working to provide for their families. To do that, they will have to work hours that they should not have to work. That is what will happen. Everybody will be put at risk. The families of the drivers and the passengers will put at risk. We need to address it.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I call Senator Craughwell to conclude.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I have huge sympathy with all of the speakers today, particularly the individuals who are running the place on their own. I was in a taxi the other day and learned they got an increase from the regulator. The car has to go in and have the meter adjusted. Surely to God in the modern day we should have meters that can be adjusted at the touch of a button. Regarding the rule, I totally support the drivers.

I think it was Mr. Maguire who spoke about the costs of cars today. I bought a second-hand car two years ago and it is worth more today than it was when I bought it. That is what these drivers are up against. I have huge sympathy with them. Anything we can do to assist them, I would urge that we do it.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Obviously, Senator Craughwell is not visiting enough councillors around the country to bring up the mileage on his car.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I will make no comment.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Sorry, Senator Craughwell.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We feel like the NTA should be encouraging single licence holders rather than pushing new applicants into the public service vehicle market straight into rental vehicles. That could be grants again and helping them out with finance. To get all these men on - I am saying "men", but I mean drivers-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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All of our guests have made to reference to TAC. What is that?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

I can tell the Chair. To be honest, I am one year in the job as president of the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation. I am 30 years driving a taxi. My family has been involved since the 1950s in Dublin and I am the last. My predecessor was on the Taxi Advisory Council, TAC, so I stepped onto it. I had one meeting, and after the first meeting, I actually do not know what to do, because-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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How recently was that?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

It was four weeks ago.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Is that body within the NTA?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Yes. It is supposed to be a taxi advisory to help the taxi drivers in Ireland. However, I think it is just a talking shop. We are totally outnumbered on the advisory panel.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Are all our guests on it?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

I apologise for interrupting. Can I just finish?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

As I said, this advisory council is made up of members who have no vested interest in the taxi industry. We have hoteliers, consumers and people who I could not understand why they are on it. They were deciding the future for our business. I was on as a taxi driver and I think there were just two other taxi drivers on the advisory. To be honest, I do not think it is fit for purpose at all.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I will allow Senator Dooley to continue with this vein and then other areas. We might then let Mr. McGuinness come in on that.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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Many of the issues were covered, so I will just make a couple of comments. I know most of the lads from over the years, having been a transport spokesperson in this House for a good number of years. It is that perennial issue. They are back year after year with problems as they arise. It seems, rightly or wrongly, that there is not a proper structure in place to assist the industry. It is seen from a regulatory perspective. If the NTA, which is looking at the drivers as licence holders, it is all about making sure they reached the standards and do not do what they should not do. However, to hell with the rest of it and they should get on and do it themselves. That may have worked at a time. We have to treat the industry differently. We have to recognise that the taxi industry, to use the term across the board, is an integral part of our public transport system. If we took the same approach to trains, trams and the Luas, we would not have a decent public transport system. We have to integrate taxis, to use the term across small public sector vehicles, and find a way to ensure there is an agency or agent within the State apparatus.

I am not talking about setting up another quango. I am talking about establishing an office for taxi development or public service vehicle development. It seems ludicrous to me that taxi drivers are being messed around. I mean grants sound great and people may think they can benefit from them but one cannot get a car so there is no joined-up thinking. I am sure the Chairman will be familiar with the carbon reduction efforts by the State to meet our targets and we have various energy agencies. I am familiar with the Tipperary Energy Agency and I know that Mr. Barrett is from Tipperary but I am not. That agency was very good at figuring how all of these different things came together and could create a concrete project. We are going to have to find a way, whether it is within the NTA or somewhere else. With the best will in the world, the NTA has a job to do but that is one of regulation. I suggest that the committee invites the NTA to go through the issues that have arisen.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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The NTA will be coming in next week.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, we can examine in detail the issues with the NTA, seek proposals and maybe the committee can come forward with some ideas on how to develop and sustain the industry.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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Assisting the transition to electric vehicles is a good idea and other countries have done so as it is good for the environment. The initiative should be good for taxi drivers but it sounds to me that it is not. There are many issues that we must examine and Mr. Cooley is right that it is an advisory committee. Any time that I hear of an advisory committee on anything, I know that it is a sop. An advisory committee helps to get some information across but is not action-oriented or about deliverables. The taxi organisations talk about the problem among themselves but they have no way of making it happen.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Yes, basically, it is just a talking shop.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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That is fine because it highlights issues. To some extent, this committee is a talking shop.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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However, what we say at the committee gets amplified and commented on. We can also make recommendations to the Department. We can bring others in and challenge them on issues so at least we take things further. As I have seen over the years, there is nothing to help and promote the taxi industry. Taxi drivers are individual licenceholders. There must be competition although there is not really when all of the limits are set. How can we ensure that the industry is around in ten or 15 years' time if the Government policy is to reduce the number of cars on the roads?

A modal shift has been sought for decades in terms of the amount of public transport, of which the taxi industry is an integral part. We are reducing public transport fees on buses and we have to increase taxi fares because otherwise the industry is not sustainable. I have a different approach because I believe that we should make it easier and cheaper for taxis to operate but with State support and not making things more expensive, so that we keep the price of taxi fares down for punters. We have talked about this issue elsewhere and the delegation mentioned that the hotel industry is part of the talking shop. The hotels are pricing themselves out of the market with what they are at and only very wealthy people can now afford them. At present Garth Books has a series of concerts and people want to attend them in Dublin. The taxi drivers help concert goers to get to the venue after people have travelled by train or parked their cars somewhere. People are deciding to return home after the concerts because it is cheaper for four or five people to get someone to drive them up from County Clare, for example, than stay in a hotel but such a situation is crazy. We have got to look at the future sustainability and viability of the taxi business, and everything should be on the table.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We must make driving taxis viable in order to attract young people in Ireland to the industry.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Mr. David McGuinness:

I was a member of the taxi advisory committee for five years. During that time, I felt that we were there to rubber-stamp whatever decision the NTA had made about the industry.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Who is on the advisory committee? I know that Mr. Cooley is on it.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, there is supposed to be four members of representative groups from the taxi sector involved in the TAC. There is currently one and Mr. Cooley represents the federation. The other two people are individual taxi drivers so they are not part of any representative group. I refer to the other three representative groups and Mr. Cooley's group at the time. During the pandemic I resigned my position from the TAC because of its total inactivity, it took too long to get everything that we wanted to get to support the industry and I would have been embarrassed by some of the decisions that the TAC was coming forward with to support taxi drivers during the onset of the pandemic. We are the largest four groups of representatives in Ireland. We wrote to the NTA with a list of proposals to reform the TAC to help the taxi industry have more direct negotiations with the Department of Transport. I think we supplied the initial email to the committee.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Mr. David McGuinness:

All of the ideas were knocked back straight away by the National Transport Authority and we are left with the TAC as it was before.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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At this moment in time is there anyone from any representative group on the TAC?

Mr. David McGuinness:

Mr. Cooley.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Cooley was and I will not speak for him.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

It was not a very long productive meeting. What I heard at the two-hour meeting left me frustrated and I understand why the lads stepped away from it. We need to know who makes the decisions. We do not know who in the NTA makes the decisions for the taxi industry, which is done without any advice from us to help our industry.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Before Mr. Waldron comes in, I note that we all avail of taxis. I take the train and then get a taxi. The first thing that I always ask a taxi driver is how he or she feels about his or her electric vehicle and I receive a positive response in general. The grant is a positive grant and the problem lies with the mechanisms to reach a certain point. Ironically, many people say that the problem lies with the level of the grant. That does not appear to be the primary issue here. The delegations present are the experts on this industry. As I am an accountant by training, I normally go through the figures with representatives so I have a pretty good idea of the figures. They work and they will work into the future when you seek to change a car.

Mr. James Maguire:

I drive an electric car. I can run my house and charge my car seven days a week for €45, and that is the answer you want.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The grant was oversubscribed last year. A sum of €15 million was allocated but it was not spent as people could not get electric cars. I think €5 million remained in the fund because people could not get the electric cars and they are the people we are thinking of now. These are the people who are willing and want to go electric but they are not in a position to do so. Earlier, as we discussed, people have encountered problems when trying to get grants and the vehicles are not available.

In response to the point that Senator Dooley made about encouraging people to use taxis and cars, for years we have also said that people with disabilities should get a grant subsidy to use our services. They should not have to rely on getting on a bus. They should have a grant subsidy so that they can get into a taxi as well.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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It is important that the committee makes a recommendation.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I do not know whether any recommendation will be successful but we must make it in the context of public transport. We are reducing the cost of going on a bus. Nobody is expected to pay a fare on a bus commensurate with the cost of running the bus which is what we must consider. If one did then it would cost a lot more to travel even short distances and I presume it would cost €20 to travel the short distance from here to Donnybrook.

The taxi industry works and provides a fantastic service. My town of Ennis does not have a bus service but there are good Local Link services in the rural areas. Every week, taxi men bring elderly people, who are on a low income, to the shop and back. These drivers do a tremendous job. Nobody gets rich by doing such work and the challenges they face increase every year because of regulation. I am not saying that we do not need regulation; we do but alongside regulation, we need an element of the State agencies to be examining how to protect and preserve the sector. For a long time we depended on people from outside of the State who worked for very little money because of where they had come from themselves and they got us through a period.

Many of them have now left. They have moved on with their lives and are not prepared to do that anymore. We are now back to the same situation again where there is not a viable opportunity for people to come into the industry. No one needs a lecture on this committee about the cost of property, rents and so on. One would not have a hope of making a living as a taxi driver. I can understand it when Mr. Cooley says that his will be the last generation in his family to drive a taxi.

Mr. David McGuinness:

I would like to give an example of the inflexibility built into the system. There are two licences in the taxi industry - the PSV driver's licence and the taxi plate licence. The PSV driver's licence is renewed every five years. We have a number of members whose five-year licence expired during the pandemic. Once a year has passed following expiry, applicants must resit the test. Drivers are being told they have to resit the test even though some of them have been driving taxis for up to 30 years. Through no fault of their own, their licences expired. They may not have been able to come out, they may not have worked during the pandemic and may have been housebound but they are now being told that they must resit their test. Many of them have years of experience driving taxis. That is just one example of the inflexibility that we face from the TAC and the NTA.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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There are specific issues that need to be addressed now, which are general operational issues. Then there are the wider issues referred to by Senator Dooley. Deputy O' Rourke is next.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the witnesses for coming in. It is good to have the opportunity to hear directly from them. We hope to meet representatives of the NTA in the coming weeks.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We are meeting them next week on this issue.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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Yes. It is important to have the opportunity to air the issues. It is very clear from the contributions we have heard that there are fundamental problems with the voice of taxi drivers being heard in the industry and being central to the development of the industry. That is something that has been repeated and it will be central to a lot of what we raise with the NTA and on which we need to see reform in the time ahead. I encourage the witnesses to develop their own thinking and proposals on what an alternative to the TAC would look like. In the context of a number of comments, a long-standing proposal is included in the programme for Government for a public transport forum. Is that something that the witnesses would like to see and what might that look like?

The bigger issue I want to raise relates to the viability of the sector. I see an incredible contradiction within the system relating to the EV grants. On the one hand, the Government is saying that it wants a green transition, it wants the taxi industry to go green and it is putting €15 million per year into this. Problems have been identified with that, as outlined by the witnesses. At the same time, there will be a cliff edge in 2023 whereby thousands of vehicles are going to be hit by the nine-year rule and, as a consequence, individual drivers will be left to decide whether to get another petrol or diesel vehicle to tide them over in the meantime or to exit the industry all together. That scenario has been spelled out to the NTA and the Minister by myself and others. We have outlined that scenario to them and what they say in response is, "Don't panic". They say they are looking at it, a fare increase was introduced recently, a recruitment campaign is ongoing and that will solve the problem. That is what the NTA will say to us again next week and I want to ask our guests, as industry representatives, what they say to that.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

I will take the first question on the increase in people coming into the market and applying for licences. I asked what age groups were involved and they said students were coming into the market. I asked if they were really telling me that students were going to get a loan to enter the market. They want to push students straight into the rental market. That is their first option. Students are not going to be single licence holders but are going into the rental market, where they are under pressure. In terms of getting new people to take up licences and do tests, even when they do the tests, they are looking at a three- to four-month wait to get their licence. That is just another example of the lack of joined up thinking in the NTA.

The transfer of taxi licences is so important. The transfer of licences from people who are exiting the market is crucial. They have a car, a sign, a meter and a licence. It is so simple and is basically down to a question of clerical administration. If someone is leaving our industry, it should be easy for him or her to transfer the vehicle and the meter to somebody else and then it would only be a matter of weeks to have thousands of vehicles on the road. We have people who have had cars in their driveways for years, since the start of the pandemic. We reckon that 3,500 drivers have exited the industry because of the rules and regulations and the fact that licences cannot be transferred. The system is totally inflexible. We are delighted to be here today because the transfer of the licences of those who are exiting the industry is a major issue.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

Before I came to the Oireachtas today I contacted one of the smaller garages in the city. It is not only the larger garages that deal with EVs. At the moment, that garage owner has 17 brand new cars in his forecourt, with taxi signs on them, ready to move. He is waiting for the NTA to upload them onto the system so he can get them out on the road. We have been in touch with the NTA. I spent two hours on the phone yesterday; myself and many others have spent lengthy periods trying to get through to the NTA. It is impossible to get an appointment-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Dempsey, please go into a little more depth on that. Explain it again.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

One of the garages has 17 EVs sitting there-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Purchased by taxi drivers?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

Yes, purchased by drivers. They have paid for them and are probably due to pay their first instalment to the bank. The people who own them are trying to get their cars on the road but at the moment, they cannot get a suitability appointment with the NTA.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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If they get an appointment with the NTA for a suitability check, where is that carried out? Is a test done?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

They bring the car up and the NTA checks that the car is suitable to be a taxi, then it grants a licence.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Is that done by a private subcontractor on behalf of the NTA or is it done by the NTA directly?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

It is done by a private contractor.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Is the delay with the private contractor or with the NTA processing the application?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

The NTA has to re-license the vehicle because the driver has changed from an old car, has scrapped-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Where is the delay?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

The delay is with the NTA. Nobody can get through to them on the phone.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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I ask Mr. Dempsey to clarify whether he is talking about secondhand or new cars.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

These are brand new cars.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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If they are brand new EVs, why does the NTA have to check them?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

The NTA has to license them.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I will let Mr. Waldron in.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

When a car is ready to be licensed, it can take up to three weeks for it to be licensed by the NTA. Apart from the problems with trying for hours to get through to them on the phone, the car has to go through the technical department, the registration has to be submitted and then they approve the car for the grant. The taxi driver has to have scrapped his or her car to qualify for the grant, which means he or she could be out of work for three weeks while waiting for the car to be licensed.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Drivers cannot submit a car to the NTA to be considered unless they have scrapped their old car.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Exactly.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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While all of these points are important, there is a cliff edge coming next year whereby on top of those who have left the industry post Covid, another 4,000 vehicles, according to the NTA's own figures, are going to be off the road based on the ten-year rule.

Can the witnesses tell me in clear terms that there will not be an additional supply coming in through the NTA's recruitment campaign or from anywhere else to make up that difference?

Mr. James Maguire:

There is not a hope in hell.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

How can this job be attractive to anybody who wants to make a career out of it at the moment when there are so many hurdles to go through to get themselves, first of all, on the road and, second, financed, and with some type of co-operation from the NTA. It is just not feasible.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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In the best-case scenario, a person could be thousands-----

Mr. James Maguire:

I just want to make a comment, please. With regard to the NTA, I bought an MG car. There were about ten MGs on the road at the time.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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That is an electric vehicle.

Mr. James Maguire:

Yes.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I believe you may have given me some lifts.

Mr. James Maguire:

I probably did. In any event it is called escalation. Escalation means that there is a technical department within the NTA which will have a look and see if that car is suitable. Why is it not suitable if ten more of them have been licensed already? This is all bureaucracy, red tape, where there is the existence of a technical man in the NTA doing this job. It is just impossible to go through all of these things. If the driver is off the road, he or she could be in that position for three weeks or more. We need somebody to appear before the committee to ask the NTA questions, whether it is by taxi drivers or otherwise, because it is a joke.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We will ask the NTA questions next week. I call Mr. McGuinness to speak now, please.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Just getting back to Deputy O’Rourke’s point and the statement of the NTA asking us not to worry. This is a very significant worry, first and foremost because of the 3,985 who face being excluded from their job, basically. These are the NTA figures. In a year, it is almost 4,000 drivers and being told not to worry is not the answer to this.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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That is 4,000 plus approximately another 4,000 drivers who could be affected by the start of January.

Mr. David McGuinness:

They could be pushed out of the industry. “Don’t Worry” is not the solution. That is what we saw from the NTA during the pandemic, which said it would be okay. It is always last-minute decisions. Apart from other factors as to why people will not come into the industry, they know that when they come into it, they will be facing the bureaucracy of the NTA in every department of the taxi sector. Getting back to the point raised by Mr. Maguire about the delays to the giving of suitability clearances for those cars, the drivers have been given a €25,000 grant by the NTA to get these cars on the road. Drivers are still waiting for the suitability clearance, even though they have gone through all of the processes. They should be licensed straight away and they should not have to go for an SGS test as they have already been given a substantial grant. The driver should be able to turn up, be given the door sticker, where his or her meter is fine, and away they go.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I call Mr. Waldron to speak briefly, please.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Addressing Deputy O’Rourke’s point, the bigger fear for me is that of people being driven out of the industry. There is also the fear of those who hang on in the industry for as long as they can. They will be putting themselves into very significant debt and will be working enormously long hours that will be putting their own lives - I keep emphasising this - and those of their passengers at risk. We have to take this on board. People do not have the opportunity to walk out of a taxi driver’s job into another job. During the Covid-19 period many people did that and found that it was quite good for them and they stayed in these jobs. That is why we are down 2,000 drivers. Those opportunities are beginning to fall away and perhaps people want to be taxi drivers but they are being forced not to be one. I keep emphasising that it is the health and welfare of ourselves and our passengers that we are concerned about.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I call Mr. Egan to contribute now, briefly, please.

Mr. Philip Egan:

We have the solution to the problem. My father is 89 years of age and he is retired from taxi work. He was a taxi driver for 55 years. He has to die in order for that licence to be transferred. It is totally illogical. That is a licence that is there and Mr. Cooley’s father is in the same position. There are many solutions and we have approached the NTA over the past number of years. Because it pushed the dust under the carpet, it is now up against a wall and the situation is insanity. If Deputy Lowry or the Chairman were in the back my taxi and if I told them what was going on, they would think that I was smoking some kind of crack.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We would hope not.

Mr. Philip Egan:

Sometimes, I wish I could with the traffic. There are many solutions, however. We are here and we want to help the public and do not have any animosities towards anybody. We want to be an integral part of the system.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Egan is basically saying that nobody becomes a millionaire driving a taxi.

Mr. Philip Egan:

No, you will not.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Egan is just saying that he is doing what he wants to do.

Mr. Philip Egan:

We have many solutions to the problems. To have cars in garages and not having them out on the road is insane.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Point taken.

Mr. Philip Egan:

We are hoping that the committee might bring this point forward.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I call Deputy O’Rourke again, please.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I want to pick up on those points on the extension of the ten-year rule, the issue of transferability, and the bureaucracy involved in the suitability tests, which we are hearing loud and clear. There is also the big piece around the voice of taxi drivers for the future of their own industry. These are the issues we are hearing loud and clear today and we will have to pick up on these points with the NTA and come back with something for the drivers and I thank them for their time.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Absolutely; we are doing a structure. I call Mr. Dempsey to speak briefly, please.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

We have to have a point of contact with the NTA. We have not got one.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I wanted to develop that point in my own question as to a structure.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

I thank the Chairman.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

On another point that it is not necessarily for the NTA, perhaps the Department of Justice may be the people to talk to. It is the question of why there is not somebody allocated, such as a Garda liaison officer, to deal directly with the representative groups. The Garda are very quick to contact us when it is asking us if there has been anybody around with CCTV footage and such matters. We would like to be able to benefit from contact with them also.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I call Deputy Lowry now, please.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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I apologise for being late but I was following the submissions that have been made. I welcome the delegation for appearing before us and I thank them for giving us a very good outline and the information we require. Deputy O’Rourke has summed up the main points that have been raised. From my own experience, I use taxis a great deal and I always find that the members of the profession are obliging, courteous and very helpful. From speaking with taxi drivers when you get into the car, and have a chat with them, you understand that the system within which they operate is very bureaucratic and full of anomalies and inconsistencies. It is obviously making life difficult for those in the industry. It is difficult to make a living, has very inconvenient hours and is uncertain in terms of the level of income you can rely on. Many of the issues that have been raised need to be dealt with and we will have to take them up with the NTA and ensure that we get-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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The NTA is appearing before us next Wednesday.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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When it appears before us, we will take those points up with the authority.

Can our guest speakers clarify one issue for me? I raised this question in the Dáil a month before the recess. I was at Dublin Airport and the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, is also answerable to this committee. I seek clarification about a time I came in on a late-night flight at Dublin Airport and there were no taxis in the rank. Taxis kept passing me by but I could not get anybody to stop. Eventually, I made inquiries the day after and a taxi driver himself told me that once he dropped a fare at Dublin Airport, he had to leave the airport and could not come back to collect somebody. To clarify, what is the situation in that regard? If people arriving at the airport, particularly foreigners coming to our country, need a taxi late at night but see this thing happening whereby the taxi rank is empty because everybody has gone out and all these taxis are spinning through the airport, dropping people off but not being allowed to come around and collect people again, it is ludicrous.

Mr. Philip Egan:

Was the Deputy at a taxi rank?

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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Yes.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Was the Deputy at terminal 1 or terminal 2, as a matter of curiosity?

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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Terminal 2.

Mr. James Maguire:

We are in a holding area.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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The taxi driver told me the day after, when I made an inquiry, that when taxi drivers come in, they can only make-----

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Can I just say that over the past two and half years or so, the DAA has refused to speak to the representative bodies on various issues throughout the airport. Our meeting with the authority last week was our first time to meet it in two and a half years. We are hoping to have a further meeting in the next two weeks.

Regarding drivers passing the Deputy by, there is a permit system. There are 1,500 drivers permitted to work at Dublin Airport and they usually park up in a holding area. For the last year or year and a half, the calling system has been faulty. We have highlighted this over and over. There may well have been taxis in a holding area not being provided to the taxi rank while the Deputy was standing there. I do not know for certain but that could be the case.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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If a taxi driver comes out of the city and does a drop, is that taxi not allowed to collect a passenger?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

No, it is illegal for him to pick up on airport property unless he has a permit.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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Is that a rule of the DAA or is it----

Mr. Philip Egan:

It is the DAA rules, basically.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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Does that make sense?

Mr. Philip Egan:

We have two ranks, at terminal 1 and terminal 2, and then there is a zone 18, if you book a taxi. When the taxi drove past the Deputy , they are going in to zone 18 and are on an app.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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My understanding is that several of these taxis have to leave the concourse. They cannot collect a passenger. Mr. Waldron is saying it is illegal for them to stop. If there are not sufficient taxis there, does it make sense for somebody from another country to see taxis floating around and passing through the airport and not be able to get on?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The Deputy is right. It is in the laws of the DAA that a car without a permit cannot stop at Dublin Airport to do a pick-up. There are only two designated stops, at terminal 1 and terminal 2. If you pick up anywhere else, you are liable for a fine. That is probably why taxi drivers were passing the Deputy by. This is something the representatives have wanted to discuss, about when there is downtime at Dublin Airport and not enough taxis, how we facilitate that. The Deputy must remember that we are competing against the city centre and late night what-have-you. People probably feel it is more profitable to work in the city rather than to go to the airport.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

For taxi drivers who go out to Dublin Airport, the luggage charge and pick-up charge were abolished. We have drivers who drive back from the south side of the city and pay to go through the tunnel to come to Dublin Airport. It is dedication to Dublin Airport. As Mr. Waldron said, when Dublin Airport is busy, Dublin city is busy. Many drivers will not make the trip out to Dublin Airport because it is not cost-efficient, given there is no pick-up charge or luggage charge, when they go into the city centre, get a pick-up charge and not have to use as much fuel.

We have to understand we came out of a pandemic. Since March of this year, we have been overwhelmed with people coming out of Dublin Airport because everybody has had vouchers from holidays who have put holidays off and whose family have not been home for years. We are in unprecedented times regarding passenger levels in the last couple of months but we see those numbers levelling off.

Senator Gerry Horkan took the Chair.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

In response to Deputy Lowry, we will be looking at passenger levels dropping in the coming months. That was an overwhelming period. The DAA would not meet or recognise us. As Mr. Waldron said, we only got in to see the authority last week.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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We will be having its representatives in at a future date. We will emphasise the necessity for consultation with the witnesses' organisations on a regular basis.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

It is talking that we need.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the witnesses. I was not in the room but was watching and had read the statements in advance. All the organisations represented are doing a great job, but what is the difference between them? Do they cover different geographic areas or different parts of the industry or are they overlapping to an extent? If that is a very political question which they do not want to answer, that is okay.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We are all working in tandem.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, but why are there three or four different bodies representing the same industry? Is there a difference between them?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

It is the same with the unions like SIPTU and all the other unions. People just choose to join different groups.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

The paramount thing is we are all working drivers in Dublin city

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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In your organisation?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

All of the organisations. We are all seeing the same problems happening day to day.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Obviously Mr. Barrett is based in County Tipperary.

Mr. David McGuinness:

There is a misunderstanding. The group here drives in Dublin city but we represent drivers throughout the country.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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That was part of my question. Obviously, the organisations have a breakdown of where taxi licences are registered, where the drivers are based and so on. The vast bulk of taxis are in cities. Is that correct?

Mr. David McGuinness:

The vast majority are in Dublin. There are up to 10,000 licences registered to work in Dublin.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Are we talking maybe 60% or 65% of the industry?

Mr. David McGuinness:

I think there is around 18,000, so near enough 55%.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Just over half anyway are based in Dublin.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Yes.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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After that, is it Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford?

Mr. Philip Egan:

Galway, Limerick and Cork.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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And in the smaller towns and villages-----

Mr. David McGuinness:

Yes, in Carlow, Kilkenny and that type of town.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Say we go down to rural Kerry, Tipperary or Mayo, are there many taxis or is that where the illegal part comes in?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The National Private Hire and Taxi Association is also private hire. It is a bit different from the other groups. We represent SPSV licenceholders, not just taxi drivers.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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To clarify for people looking in who might not be familiar with the terminology, what is the difference?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The difference is if you have a roof sign, you can pick up on the street. As a private hire, you have to be called.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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So this is the old hackney term, is it?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

That is right.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that as prevalent as it was?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

No, it is not as prevalent. Our association had 4,000 members prior to deregulation in 2000 and they all became taxi drivers, effectively.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Are there very few hackney licences now in existence?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

There are not so many now,

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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How many would there be?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Hundreds rather than thousands.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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So we have about 18,000 taxi drivers registered, albeit some of them inactive, and only in the hundreds for hackney. There is no real advantage in being a hackney now.

Mr. Philip Egan:

Hackneys really only work the country because you would not have the volume of traffic. Say in Leitrim or Sligo, they would be more in the hinterlands and more of a private hire.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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There are no new hackney licences so they will over time vanish.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

There are no new private hire licences being issued but rural hackney licences are issued. If you live in the back of beyond, for want of a better description, and there is no service there, you can apply for a rural hackney licence.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that a much cheaper process than a taxi licence?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

It is and there are different criteria so it is easier to do.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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What is the difference?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

You still have to be vetted by the police. You cannot pick up in public. You have to be called by telephone.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Would the app still work for those people?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

It would.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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In the old days, you could pick up on the street if you were a taxi and the hackney had to be rung. Before mobile phones, that was more complicated.

Mr. Philip Egan:

They have private bookings and they use the new technologies such as apps.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The reason you might do that is the business is light and it is a cheaper process but you cannot pick up on the street so that is a disadvantage.

Mr. Philip Egan:

Yes

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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A good few points have been raised by others and I do not want to go back over them. It seems there is a litany of points. There was a taxi regulator and that has been absorbed into the NTA over time. Has that system made it worse? Were all the problems just as bad when there was a taxi regulator?

Mr. James Maguire:

It is just as bad

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It has not improved it, but it has not made it worse either.

Mr. James Maguire:

A guy called Ger Deering came in with no transport background. Seamus Brennan appointed him. Then he went off into the sunset and Kathleen Doyle took over.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I think he may have appeared in front of our committee, myself and Deputy O'Donnell, because I think he went up into the-----

Mr. James Maguire:

Kathleen Doyle came in and made a mess of-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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We will not impugn people who are not here to defend themselves. It did not improve the situation, is what you are saying.

Mr. James Maguire:

It made things harder.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The move to the NTA, you would have hoped, would make things better. Are there specific people in the NTA? Is there a person in the NTA?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

My experience, which will amount to 40 years next year, is that when the taxi regulator came in, it was a separate entity to the transport, in under the umbrella. Then they all came in under the NTA. Taxi drivers have little or no say or discussion with them. They will not recognise us, as far as I can see. We should be sitting at a table and discussing our issues.

It is a one-way street and we will never get any dialogue unless we have a two-way street. They need to sit down to talk.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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This is useful for us. All of the witnesses have raised their points and they are all valid points. They are certainly points of concern. What the witnesses might do is write to the committee. We will have the National Transport Authority before the committee next week to respond to this. If the witnesses were sitting in those seats next week what questions would they ask? I know their issues but what questions do they want us to ask? What are the five, eight, ten or 12 questions they would like to ask? They do not have to tell us now. They can put together their questions on vehicle age, credit cards and licence transfers. Issues have been raised that I was not aware of. We were all familiar with the value of a taxi plate before the regulation. It plummeted and there were various compensation mechanisms. That is 20 years ago at this stage.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

It is 23 years ago.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I thought it was around 2002. The process happened 23 years ago. I was not aware that people could not transfer licences until somebody died.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

It is very draconian.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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People are living longer. There is an expectation that somebody will live to be 89 or 90. That person would not be driving. If people want to keep a licence they have to keep insuring a vehicle.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Everything must be kept up annually.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Are they allowed to let other people use the car? How does that work?

Mr. David McGuinness:

They have to declare an non-interest in the car or driving the taxi. Drivers used to ease their way out of the industry over a number of years while a suitable member of the family or someone else would be eased into the industry.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that not possible anymore?

Mr. David McGuinness:

That has stopped. People must declare that they will not drive the vehicle. It is no longer a personal vehicle. The insurance costs for the people who get into the vehicles are much higher than for ordinary drivers because they do not own the vehicles. It is a circle.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The insurance industry is also involved.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Exactly. The overall point of all of the groups is quite clear. The discussion between the NTA and the taxi representative groups is one way. This leads to many problems in the industry not being resolved.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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And meetings such as this having to happen. If we had a two-way street to get things over the line we would not be having this meeting.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Among the documents we submitted was a list of reforms the four groups agreed with regard to the taxi advisory committee. One is a simple request that a senior official of the Department of Transport meet the representative groups. This has been refused. When this is the attitude of the NTA towards the people who represent the majority of taxi drivers where will we go with the problems? If it will not speak to the people who know about the problems-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The relationship of the witnesses is with the NTA and not the Minister or the Department.

Mr. David McGuinness:

It is purely with the NTA.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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There is no official in the Department dealing with taxis.

Mr. David McGuinness:

No. The Department refers it to the taxi forum.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I get that point.

Mr. David McGuinness:

It is frustrating.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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We have it in aviation with the Irish Aviation Authority dealing with regulation and not the Minister directly.

Mr. David McGuinness:

We need a national transport assembly. We need people that run coaches, buses, taxis and everything else. What is most important is that we need direct contact with the Department of Transport.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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That is the point that-----

Mr. David McGuinness:

A Department of Transport forum would be all well and good but-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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With the Minister and departmental staff and not the NTA.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Exactly, with the Department of Transport. A transport forum would be all well and good and I am sure down the road it will be nice but our industry is running on fuel at this stage.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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There are an awful lot of issues. I am sure the witnesses sent in their statements separately but there is an amount of overlap with the same issues, whether on the age of vehicles or the transfer of licences. One group mentioned Uber more than the others and one mentioned illegals more than everybody else but the statements are very similar.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We see the Uber situation as one of the most important issues.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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How prevalent is it?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We got knowledge of a report that came out in July about Uber spending €80 million to €90 million per year trying to destabilise the taxi industry in Europe. It got as far-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Will Mr. Cooley explain what he means by that?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Uber wanted to change the legislation in Ireland to be more friendly to the Uber business model, which has no licence or Garda vetting, so that if people wanted to be Uber drivers they could go online, download an app and become a taxi driver within 24 hours. This would decimate our industry in Ireland. Uber had a lobbyist in Ireland in 2014, 2015 and 2016. It was lobbying the then Government and Minister.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Not since 2016?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

According to the report it got frustrated at the approach of the NTA, which would not change the legislation to make it easier for Uber.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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In that particular regard Mr. Cooley was happy with the approach of the NTA.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Yes but we want to make sure it sticks with it. We might as well rip up our licences if this happens.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Forgive my lack of knowledge of this particular issue. Throughout Europe does everywhere have Uber? I am only asking the question. I do not know.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

London taxi drivers will say the same. When Uber came into London it destroyed the industry because the Knowledge was no use any more. It became an app.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Mr. Cooley is saying Uber spent €80 million to €90 million-----

Mr. Alan Cooley:

A year.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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What did it spend it on?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Lobbying politicians all over Europe to make Uber the business model in countries.

Mr. James Maguire:

It employed John Moran as a lobbyist.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

Uber is in Ireland but only in taxis. We can see them going around the city but the vehicles must run taxi meters. Uber wants to expand this.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Uber is here.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

It is in Ireland. We can see Uber vans outside Dáil Éireann. It is an app. They are taxi drivers like us but they choose to use the app. They must also use the meter.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Uber's model is that when it is busy it can price surge.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

Correct.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Last week was very busy with the Garth Brooks concerts. Under the Uber model a €10 could have cost €30 to €40 and that would be legal.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It would not be legal for the witnesses to do this.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

No. I would be hauled up in front of the NTA.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It is not legal in Ireland.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

No.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It is legal in London.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

That is Uber's business model which it wants to introduce in Ireland. As I said, I have witnessed it in other countries. It is a situation where the standard of the drivers, cars and customer service are deplorable.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I am asking the question and I have no vested interest. In areas where we do not have taxi drivers or there is a lack of taxi drivers, such as in very rural areas, do the witnesses see any room for Uber?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

We have the rural hackney system that is very beneficial.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Is it sufficient to cover the demand in those areas?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

If there is demand that is what it there for. That is why it was introduced.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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There would still be regulation of the drivers and the cars.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

There are also local minibus services. The representatives of the hackney service would be able to enlighten the Acting Chair more about this. We would not need Uber to look after it. I know people were looking for Uber to come into rural areas but it would destroy the taxi business.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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On the one hand we have people stating everyone is leaving the taxi industry and it is very difficult to get people into it. Simultaneously we are saying we do not want-----

Mr. Des Dempsey:

What we are saying is it needs to be made attractive but not for Uber.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

I must correct the Acting Chair. Nobody is saying we do not want other people in the industry. We are saying we want people to come in with the proper rules and guidelines.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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That is fine. I was not saying that. I was saying the industry is finding it difficult to get people to come in.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

To come back to what Mr. McGuinness mentioned earlier, it is very important that taxi drivers have a platform to present our ideas to try to be positive to the industry. I happened to listen in to a meeting of an Oireachtas committee at which the NTA stated it was in touch with the industry all the time. I have to say I send emails to the NTA and I get replies to them. I do not have a problem with this. Those emails are to raise individual items. I want to sit down in a room to discuss policy and not individual items. That is why we are here today. There should be a forum for taxi drivers to sit with the decision-makers to discuss where the industry is going.

There is the likes of Uber and all these other things.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Is Mr. Waldron saying drivers do not have a forum or they do?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

There is no platform whatsoever for taxi drivers at the moment. They keep saying to us go on-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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There is the Taxi Advisory Committee.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

They keep saying to us go on to the Taxi Advisory Committee and we keep saying "No" because it does not represent us. It is a talking shop, as people have said already. We are also outvoted insofar as everybody else in the room who does not drive a taxi or has not really got an interest has an equal decision.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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This is something I want to come in on. What is the make-up of the Taxi Advisory Committee? Is it the Garda, the county council and so on?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

It is the Garda, county councils, the disability association and the hotel industry. There are four representatives to represent-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Would taxi drivers like their own room where they and only they can talk backward and forward to the NTA to raise the issues and get delivery? Like in any negotiation drivers will not get it all their own way but at least we can make the nine years 12 years and not 15 years or whatever.

Mr. David McGuinness:

The way it is currently, all the decisions taken on the taxi industry go to public consultation. Before any decision is taken, the NTA decides what is happening and then puts it out to public consultation, without contacting any of the groups sitting here. I doubt it contacts any taxi driver. It goes to public consultation and if the NTA likes the decision of the public consultation then it implements the decision. If it does not it still implements the decision but there is no contact point between the Department of Transport, the NTA and any group that represents any number of taxi drivers.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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One of the questions I might put to the NTA next week is on what the resistance is to having a meeting in a forum consisting of it and the groups present, full stop.

Mr. David McGuinness:

It would be great if the Acting Chairman got an answer to that, because-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It may not be the answer the groups want but I will certainly put the question.

Mr. David McGuinness:

At least we will have an answer.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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We will try not to get sidetracked.

Mr. Philip Egan:

We would love an answer because we and the four groups here are singing from-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The level of frustration is very palpable.

Mr. Philip Egan:

Yes.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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There are so many issues the groups are trying to get addressed. I am somebody who lives in Dublin and uses taxis, though probably not as much as some rural members do. I use taxis and I was not aware of half the issues raised in the meeting today.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Take the recruitment campaign. I do not think any driver here or any of the organisations have been contacted to give a positive reason for why a person might want to be a taxi driver. How does somebody in the NTA start a recruitment campaign without contacting taxi drivers or their organisations to sell it as a positive experience?

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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That is a very valid point. Before they put that out, lots of organisations would say that this was what they were thinking and maybe ask for views.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Yes.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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That might head things off at the pass.

Mr. David McGuinness:

The NTA could have asked us to do a survey of our members to find out the positives of being a taxi driver. One of them is that you decide your own hours. That is a positive in any job. You hear people talking about how it is a new thing with working from home but we have been doing it for years. We have been deciding our hours for years. Even with the recruitment campaign the NTA is doing at the moment, nobody has been contacted within the industry to give a positive reason people should come into the industry - nobody. That shows the lack of contact again.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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One point the NTA made when we had its representatives before us on another subject, which was active travel or something, was there was only a shortage of taxis for two or four hours a night twice a week. Is that valid? Then the rest of the time we are not short of taxis. Our guests agree with that point.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Except when there are concerts on and things like that. That makes for huge demand.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, and football matches and so on.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We have come out of a pandemic, so since St. Patrick's Day of this year it has really gone full tilt and we are trying to catch up with the situation.

Mr. David McGuinness:

On the shortage of taxis for the four hours a week, I will give the Acting Chairman some of the figures from the NTA fare review for 2022. Dublin has 7.4% taxis per 1,000 people. Brussels has 1.9% for 1,000 people. Oslo has 0.6% per 1,000 people. People are calling it a shortage of taxis but I do not think anybody in this room will say there is one. There is no other public transport. The Luas is gone, the DART is gone and buses are gone.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It is fair to say we are not comparing like with like because there is the Uber situation in some of those cities as well.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Actually-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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There are also 24-hour services.

Mr. David McGuinness:

There are other transport services and in Oslo-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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There are 24-hour buses and so on.

Mr. David McGuinness:

The Acting Chairman mentioned Uber regarding Oslo and questioned people a couple of minutes ago. Initially, cities allowed Uber to operate within them but more and more the cities are withdrawing Uber's licence to operate because of the problems that keep recurring.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Uber is not the be-all and the answer to everything in our city but Dublin-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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All the representatives have made the point quite clearly that from their perspective there is-----

Mr. David McGuinness:

I guarantee it is not just from my perspective but from the customer's perspective.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, the organisations are bringing their valued knowledge to this.

Mr. David McGuinness:

There are huge issues with customer safety with Uber, so it is not just from the perspective of the taxi drivers' representative groups. It has a lot to do with the quality of service and the price of service. That affects the customer. It does not affect me because I would never use one.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I am going to let the Chairman back in and then I have a couple more points so he can let me back in. I think we have a few visitors joining us after that.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell resumed the Chair.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I take it Senator Horkan has a few concluding remarks.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

It would be useful for the drivers' representatives to put themselves in our position next Wednesday at 1.30 p.m. when we are quizzing the NTA. I ask them to give me, separately or together, the five, six or eight main points. They have all been raised today. There was the point about the vehicle licences and the point about the transfer of licences. There was the issue around credit cards. We did not get to discuss whether that is still an issue or whether the groups are accepting of that, or whatever.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Would all the points that we made not have been written down at this committee?

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, but I am giving the representatives the opportunity. What do they want to make sure I ask the NTA?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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There might be points that we have not covered today that the representatives might assist us with.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I have plenty of ammunition already-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We have the four points.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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----I am just offering the representative groups this opportunity.

Mr. David McGuinness:

We will do up something for the Senator.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We definitely want answers about how after midnight there is no other transport service in Dublin operating but us. We are taking the full hit from the people's anger about standing on the street waiting to get home. Dublin Bus basically drops hundreds of thousands of people into Dublin and then goes home.

Mr. Philip Egan:

CIÉ admits that for the past ten years, up to the pandemic, it dropped in 280,000 people from 7 a.m. until 10.45 p.m. We then have to bring them home.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Okay.

Mr. Philip Egan:

It is not a problem but Dublin has expanded. We are going out to Bray or out to Ratoath or Ashbourne. Technically, it is not Dublin but that is what we are doing. When a car goes out, it is gone. If I go to say, Santry, it is 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back. We want to be an integral service, with CIÉ, out on the road. We want to know why there is no DART operating.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Would the representatives be in favour of more 24-hour buses?

Mr. Philip Egan:

Of course.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

And the DART.

Mr. Philip Egan:

Every other city has it. We are there to look after the public and get them there and back. The Senator was talking about Uber. We are vetted every five years. I have to renew my PSV licence every five years, so you do that four months before your licence is up. We are all vetted. If you are not then you cannot renew your licence. I do not want a free-for-all. I do not want a person going in to work on a Monday morning, driving into town, and you do not know who he or she is.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I take the point. I thank all the drivers for all they are doing for all of us and right across the country. I have lots of stuff myself but if there are particular issues the representatives want us to raise, please make sure to because the NTA will be sitting where they are this day next week and we have the opportunity to ask questions of it. I thank the Chairman.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I move to non-members. Deputy Boyd Barrett and Deputy Ó Laoghaire wish to come in as well. I will be liberal with time.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank the Chairman. To be honest, I must apologise as well as I have to go back over to the Dáil. We are bouncing back and forth. I heard all the presentations at the outset and People Before Profit will support all the demands the groups are making.

I thank Tiománaí Tacsaí Na hÉireann, the NPHTA, the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation and the Taxi Alliance of Ireland for all their work in representing taxi drivers. One thing that I cannot understand, and I think the committee should ponder, is why it is that an ordinary car can stay on the road if it passes the NCT, but a taxi that is perfectly okay to drive has this arbitrary nine-year rule imposed on it. I support drivers on that.

Mr. James Maguire:

There are buses out there that are ancient. That thing that does tea tours is from 1954. What is the difference?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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What is the difference? I want the committee to ponder that fact. It is completely unfair. There is no reason for it. I cannot understand the reason for it.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

If the Deputy does not mind me saying so, wheelchair accessible vehicles can stay on the road for 15 years. Some taxis are allowed to stay on the road for ten years and some for 15 years. Are some people more important than other people? I do not know where it comes from.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It makes no sense to me, and I hope the committee will take that on board.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We are talking about vehicle suitability and the ten-year ruling. Normal cars have to go through the NCT every two years. We have to go every year. Modern cars these days last longer, are in better condition and are better made.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Is it fair to say, Mr. Cooley, that the ask of the taxi drivers is a relatively straightforward one? We are coming out of a pandemic and many of the members of the organisations represented here today were not operating for a long period of time. They are not looking for cars to be an infinite age, they want to keep them for 15 years, to allow drivers sufficient time. I would have thought there is generally support within the taxi sector to move towards the use of electric vehicles. That is the feeling I get from all the taxi drivers I speak to.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Of course. All that we want is a common-sense approach and to be listened to. That is what we want.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I must say to Deputy Boyd Barrett that representatives of the NTA are appearing before the committee next week at the same time. He is welcome to join the meeting to discuss these issues.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I would be very happy to attend if I am not doing something elsewhere. I will do everything I can, as I have tried to, for the taxi drivers on these issues. I am sure the representatives here can say it, but I want to reiterate to the committee the fact that the concern about the taxi advisory committee not being fit for purpose has been raised repeatedly with the Minister. If all of the representative groups are making the same point for a long period time, somebody has to take notice.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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That has been made clear today.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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What they are looking for is a direct line to talk to the Department and to the Minister on an ongoing basis. That is the way to address issues both for the drivers and for the public, rather than having to do through this body that is just not functioning for the industry, or for anybody really. That is important.

On the issue of EVs, the point has been made to me and the committee that drivers cannot get the vehicles. It is one thing having the grant, but drivers cannot get the EVs. Do the witnesses think the Government should play a more proactive role in actually trying to secure the vehicles for drivers?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Absolutely. We are competing with the general public for the same cars. I actually feel as though the electric cars are getting an endorsement from the small public service industry. When private motorists see taxi drivers driving EVs, they look at the brands they are driving and they think they must be good cars if taxi drivers are driving them. The Government probably could prioritise us before private business. If it could intervene in some way to prioritise the taxi industry as opposed to the private industry, it would be beneficial.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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That is not an unreasonable demand.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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From hearing the representatives and from being aware of their grievances over the years, I am aware that one of the fundamental problems is that in the mindset of those who look at public transport, the taxi drivers are just not seen as part of the public transport system in the same way as other parts of the public transport system. There is a sort of seriousness about buses, trains and trams, but there is a sort of disregard for the taxi driver. Is that what the representatives feel?

Mr. David McGuinness:

That is obvious, with the removal of prime taxi stands around Dublin at the drop of a hat. Prime taxi stands in the city centre can be removed, for whatever purpose. Whether it is to install a bicycle stand, a bus lane or to have a party over a weekend, taxi stands are removed. Going back years, there was talk about integrating the taxi system with the other public transport systems. I think there is one luas stop with a taxi rank attached to it, and that is out in Cabra. It is not even in the city centre. It goes back to not negotiating with the sector. Due to the fact that the sector is funded privately by the drivers, we are not taken into account in the overall transport system. That goes back to the issue of events. A taxi stand should be set up, but that never happens. Yet, other forms of transport are allowed right up to the door of events. I totally believe that Deputy Boyd Barrett is right. We are not considered, even though we carry the Transport for Ireland, TFI, logo. We are not considered as an integral part of the overall system.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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That is a common-sense observation. So, the taxis carry the TFI logo?

Mr. David McGuinness:

Yes, on everything.

Mr. Philip Egan:

We lost the two best taxi ranks on O'Connell Street. There are no ranks attached to the new hotels they are building in the city. For example, if you go to the Maldron Hotel on Kevin Street, you are parked at a traffic light. That is not just the case with one hotel; it is the same with many hotels. Connolly Station, which is the second busiest train station in the city, only has three parking spaces because of the luas. We are second-class citizens in our own city. We are supposed to be an integral part of the city. Years ago, when all the hotels were built there was always a taxi rank outside. They are virtually all gone. If you are going down O'Connell Street, one of the main thoroughfares, you cannot get a taxi. We need to be an integral part of the system. There are no taxi ranks at DART stations. People might get the train at 11 o'clock or half past 11 at night to Bray or Sutton, and there is no taxi rank outside for them to get a taxi home, because it is private property.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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There is no public bus to get home either.

Mr. Philip Egan:

There are no public buses either. We just want to be an integral part of the systems that are there.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Does Mr. Dempsey wish to contribute? No.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Following on from that, I agree completely with the points made. It is ironic that complaints are now being made that there are not enough taxis, to which the witnesses have responded. All of a sudden people are asking where the taxi drivers are, when nothing has been done to support the drivers and the industry. Indeed, things have been done that have driven people out of the industry and have made it an unattractive option. Would the witnesses say - because I would - that if it follows that the taxi sector should be taken seriously as an integral part of an integrated public transport system that is vital for all sorts of things, including taking people to hospital, serving those with disabilities, getting people to school in certain situations, tourism and all the other roles that drivers play, it would also follow that there should be subsidies for taxi drivers in a properly regulated and run industry? Every other part of public transport is subsidised to ensure that it is there. Should there not be some sort of subsidies as part of a properly regulated industry? Similarly, the absolutely wrong way to go would be to introduce Uber, which is the opposite of that. That is just creating a cowboy situation where we are imperiling the health and safety of the travelling public and showing utter disregard for the people who are seriously providing a proper industry, such as taxi drivers.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

On the issue of subsidies, last year the NTA said that drivers could re-license their vehicles free of charge. That was appreciated. However, those who got had new EVs had to pay to renew their licences. It does not make sense.

The NTA is encouraging people to use EVs but then people have to pay for the licence if they did not put it on the existing vehicle. These are classic issues where intervention or subsidy could come in. There has just been a fare increase. It costs about €200 to get a meter programmed and resealed. We have all had to pay that. This has come on the back of the pandemic. There is no doubt that the NTA could subsidise the industry for these.

We are probably the only part of the public transport service that is a positive contributor to the NTA. Taxi drivers contribute millions of euro every year in licence fees. Maybe that is why we are not treated very well. Maybe if the NTA was giving us money, it would want to know where it was going and would want to do something about that.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank the Chair and the witnesses. I apologise. I have to go.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We touched on the interesting matter of the integrated transport system, where we bring everything together, including buses, trains, taxis, cycling, walking and so on. We know we have to change how we travel because of transport emissions. We know about the challenge that exists across the entire transport sector and that we have to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030. That will be incredibly difficult. Every one of us has a role to play, especially the witnesses.

I spoke to a couple of taxi drivers recently. I got different stories from them. I also get different stories from taxi users. It tends to be the case, with everything that one discusses, that people have different views and opinions. Taxi ranks were mentioned. Is the use of apps a good way to say that we do not need a taxi rank on a prime section of road that could be allocated to cycling, walking, on-street dining and so on? Everybody is using new technology. We have just been in with the banking-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Generally, the rank is in a high-visibility space. Someone can come out of a train station, hotel or whatever it is, then there is a rank and he or she queues at it. Is the use and prevalence of the apps a way for the taxis to wait somewhere else for the call on the app?

Mr. David McGuinness:

I would not agree. One reason is that it would push people to private companies. If there was an NTA app, then it could absolutely be done. One of the apps costs the customer €3 more than walking to a taxi stand. Pushing people only in one direction is not good for the industry or for the customer. Many taxi drivers will not use the app because of the cost of the commission that the app companies charge. Some 15% is a huge commission. Many customers have used the same taxi stands for years because they feel comfortable with the drivers at those stands. If the policy of pushing everybody to use the app is part of the overall strategy for the industry, by removing the taxi stands from the transport hubs, one would inconvenience the public and make it more expensive for them. When people order a taxi on an app, the taxi has to drive to them, so that is environmentally unfriendly too. Taxis driving around waiting for the bell on the app to go is not good for the environment.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Circling the whole time.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Absolutely. A taxi sitting at a stand is not doing any damage to the environment.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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That is interesting. I understand the issue of private company apps. I will not name any of the apps.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Neither did I.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Mr. McGuinness is suggesting a national transport app that is equitable and not as costly for people to use. I get his point about transport hubs, for central stations such as Heuston, which has Luas, bus and rail services. On O'Connell Street, is there somewhere off the main line that could be used for vehicles in circulation?

Mr. David McGuinness:

One of the issues with removal from O'Connell Street is finding where to drop off a passenger who wants to go to a hotel on the street. There is nowhere to drop off passengers anymore. They have to be dropped on Cathal Brugha Street. Capel Street and South William Street are the same. Grants are being given to taxi drivers for wheelchair accessible vehicles. Those wheelchair accessible vehicles cannot access some of those areas now. The decision regarding Capel Street at night time used to be a great idea. One cannot pull in anywhere now. If disabled people are at a restaurant on Capel Street, we cannot get to them. The rush to pedestrianise everywhere and get rid of the taxi stands, particularly after the pandemic, was too quick. There were no discussions with the industry as part of that.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

A positive from taxi ranks is that it is well-known that there is very little antisocial behaviour around them. If there was a taxi rank along the length of O'Connell Street, it might be better and safer at nighttime.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Electric vehicles were brought up. Some taxi drivers said to me that it was a great grant system, while others said it was not fit for purpose at all. I am interested in the witnesses' views on that. What is the general consensus among taxi drivers about the EV grant? We want to try to cut emissions.

Mr. James Maguire:

I have one. The vehicle is good. I have a charger at home and in the airport. Fair play to ESB, which is putting chargers all around the place. It costs me around €45 to run it, between the house and other chargers. The problem is that if I looked for an electric vehicle now, it could take until next April or May to get it. If one applies for a grant that runs out, and then the licence runs out, one would be in serious trouble. One would then have to reinvest in another vehicle. The NTA could extend that licence because it knows that the person has the vehicle and everything would be rosy in the garden. There is too much bureaucracy. The NTA does not have people who know about the taxi business. It is as simple as that. I hate to criticise the authority like that, but when I see the mistakes it makes, there does not seem to be anyone in it from a transport background. It is the same as what happened with Aer Lingus. It had a CEO who did not know about it and there was chaos. The taxi business is heading towards chaos. If we do not get the number of years for a car extended from nine years to 15, there will be chaos in the town. Is the NTA going to run and hide or is it accountable? It should be accountable to its peers in the Oireachtas.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I ask Mr. Maguire to be careful about mentioning parties that are not here. He mentioned Aer Lingus.

Mr. James Maguire:

I did not name anyone.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We have to be careful.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Some of the issues related to the licence and the EV grants could be ironed out. I did not quite catch Mr. Waldron's point. If people are transferring from an internal combustion engine vehicle to an electric vehicle, a licence change is required. Is that correct?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The conflict for drivers regarding the grant is that the grant is considered good. Most associations encourage drivers to use EVs. The process is the problem. Buying an all-electric ID4 car could cost between €55,000 and €61,000, depending on where it is bought. A person can get €25,000 in grants for that vehicle. To buy the car, he or she has to borrow the total cost of the car because the grant does not come until three months after the car has been approved. The process can take approximately three weeks. Taxi drivers have to scrap their vehicle, meaning that they could be off the road for three weeks while waiting to collect their EV and get it licensed for the road.

Various issues need to be addressed. The Department of Transport has referred to microfinance, which only lends up to €25,000. I cannot buy half an ID.4. There are issues as regards process. Nobody is saying the electric vehicle grant is not a good thing. It is a good thing and most associations appreciate it. We would like more, but we are moving positively towards it. As I said, the sight of a taxi driver driving an electric vehicle is an endorsement of a vehicle, generally speaking, that will encourage other people in private enterprise to go electric as well. We need to work together on it. We have never been included in the process. The point we keep coming back to all the time is that the associations do not have a forum to deal directly with the Department of Transport on many of these matters. That is what we need.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Waldron. That feedback is important. We can feed that back as a committee. I thank him for his answers and time.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I was able to tune in for parts of the hearing but not all. I am not a member of this committee but I was keen to come in.

I am a Cork Deputy and my knowledge of the situation relates primarily to the Cork taxi committee but many of the issues that have come up today are one and the same. The point about taxis being public service vehicles is key, as is the fact that they are not recognised adequately, or sometimes at all, by the NTA as a part of the public transport network. Taxis are also key enablers of other parts of public transport. Three out of every four times I travel to Dublin I do so by train. If a taxi was not available, I would probably drive there. If I did not have a taxi to get me from my home to the train station, that realistically means that I do not get a train at that hour of the morning. Taxis are key enablers. They enable people to get buses, trains and all the rest of it. They are a key connection. Taxis are also a key part of public transport by way of serving hospitals, elderly people and all the things that taxi drivers and, indeed, school transport do during the day. Many people just think of taxis in terms of late hours on a Saturday night. Taxis work 24-7 doing crucial work to support people. It is time the NTA recognised that. Reform and an improved replacement for the taxi advisory committee needs to be a key part of that so that taxi drivers feel they have a real say in it.

Many of the questions have already been asked. I missed the part around transferability, which is a big part of the ask at present. The point about the nine- or ten-year rule has been well made. It is illogical. If a car is roadworthy, it is roadworthy and that is all. Of course, it has to be roadworthy. That is essential but, once it is roadworthy, why should there be a higher standard for taxis than anything else?

My other question is on school transport. I have spoken to taxi drivers who say that the tendering process to serve school transport routes, typically in respect of children's special educational needs, is too onerous and complex, and is just not worth a taxi driver's while. That is why it is sometimes not possible to get a taxi and needs are not being met. Many taxi drivers do great work in that regard but sometimes the incentives are just not there for taxi drivers to apply for these routes. I ask for comment on that.

What is now crucial, and I will try to come in when NTA representatives next appear before the committee, is that there is a far better service. When we talk about public transport generally, one issue is that taxi drivers are not adequately consulted but even when we talk about taxis themselves, very often other interests, whether these are hospitality or some of the big apps, have as much say as taxi drivers, which is not right either. It is vitally important the committee has proper teeth and is fully representative of taxi drivers.

My two questions relate to school transport and transferability.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

I will answer on the taxi advisory committee. I joined that committee a month ago. The first observation I made related to two representatives on it. One was from a taxi app group, which I thought was a vested interest that really should not be on the taxi advisory committee, because any decisions would help that group to make money off the back of taxi drivers. The second representative was from what is probably the largest rental vehicle company in Dublin. I again observed at the meeting that new applicants into the industry were kind of being pushed into the rental industry. The committee was ready-made for the taxi rental company and the taxi sharing app company, who are making money off taxi drivers and not helping them, to be there sitting at the table. They will make money on commission obviously, which is extra commission at present. That was my one observation regarding the taxi advisory committee, that is, that it is basically stacked up against the driver.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The process to get on the panel for school transport is very detailed. Bus Éireann falls down in the sense that if it made such transport more accessible, more taxi drivers would be able to help it out. The process is very onerous and there is a lot to it. Maybe if some sort of department was set up to assist drivers to enrol in it, that would be a positive. There are drivers who would like to do that type of work. Many drivers do it presently, but many more could do so.

On the issue of transferability the Deputy mentioned, and some of the other driver representatives have also mentioned this, as I said earlier, a driver with terminal illness, or even a stroke, has to keep his or her taxi active during all that time and has to be dead before somebody can take over the ownership of his or her licence. Why should people who are 80 years of age and have spent 20, 30, 40 or 50 years in the business, built up clientele quite well and have a ready-made business they want to hand over, maybe to a son or daughter, or sell to somebody for that matter because that driver has earned it, not be allowed do that? Such drivers are not allowed do that at present. The only way a licence can be taken over is through inheritance. It is unfair that a person who is unable to keep a licence active and wants to transfer his or her business to somebody else is not able to do so. It should be addressed.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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It sounds like the rules are contradictory. What happens in circumstances where somebody is too sick to drive but cannot transfer his or her licence? Is it taken from that driver?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The licence becomes inactive for two years. It ceases to exist after that. The driver has two years to get better but even if he or she dies within that two-year period, the licence cannot be inherited. It is so unfair, it is unreal.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Those are my questions. Unless someone else has anything to add, I am satisfied with that.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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For my own questioning, I want to recap. I will systematically go through what we will bring up with the NTA representatives next week.

I will deal first with the issue in respect of when somebody is buying an EV. In essence, we are saying there are a combination of factors. We face a cliff edge on 1 January, when up to almost 4,000 taxis may not continue or, if they do, might do so at a level where it is not sustainable. In effect, what the representatives are looking for, dare I say, is a form of derogation for cars up to 15 years old to allow drivers a transitional period in which to transition to EV cars. That is a fair comment. The clerk will take notes. If the representatives wish to come back to the committee with more formalised contributions in certain areas, that is up to them.

I will flesh out the issue of transferability a little more. I am here long enough that I remember the time before deregulation. I am a Deputy for Limerick City. I am an accountant by training and had clients who were taxi drivers so I understand and am reasonably familiar with the sector. Overnight, following deregulation, people who had purchased taxi plates found they were worthless and we had a new system. When Mr. Cooley talks about transferability, is he talking about licences having a value or is he more interested in the process of transferability?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

The value represents some type of recompense, which is what we are looking for.

We definitely want a much easier process for transferring plates rather than requiring a person dying in their bed to sign a form. It is stressful enough for families without requiring someone to sign a form.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Can a licence be transferred from one family member to another?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Only when the person is dead.

Mr. James Maguire:

That is the problem.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

The problem is that the form has to be signed by the person before they die.

Mr. James Maguire:

It is called a nominee form.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I have come across situations where someone died, the form could not be signed and it created chaos.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We can all imagine the stress a family is going through when someone is dying and having to say, "If you don't sign this form-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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The question relates to value.

Mr. James Maguire:

Nobody wants to put a value on it.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I call Mr. Waldron.

Mr. James Maguire:

That can be determined by the National Transport Authority or whoever it is. We all know that we owe it €70,000 or €80,000 or anything like that.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The value of the plate would not go to €70,000 or €80,000 because an existing wheelchair licence can be bought at the moment. If it was going to cost €80,000, someone could buy a wheelchair licence.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Speaking about it brings about a value on the licence. That is a red herring. It is the bureaucracy in terms of transferability.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

At the moment a black market has been created with people waiting for other people to die to ask them to transfer plates. Does the Chairman understand that?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I understand that.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

I know the Chairman will mention the Taxi Advisory Committee in a minute, but we do not see it as being transparent. The NTA has discussed allowing transferability for company owners. Companies could possibly transfer their company and taxis to someone else.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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It probably relates to shareholding.

A Witness:

There is a value to the company.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I accept that.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

As a single-plate holder I would not be able to transfer. We want to ensure equality in there.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Waldron mentioned the Taxi Advisory Committee. What is its membership? Many of the witnesses have resigned from it. I know Mr. Cooley is still on the TAC. What would work? This committee always tries to do things that are solution driven and come up with something that would add to it. What would work? First, I ask for a recap as to why it is not working. What is its membership? To whom does it report? Who chairs it? What would work?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Wendy Thompson is the chair.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

No, she is not. It is a former Garda superintendent.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Appointed by the NTA.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Appointed by the NTA.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

I will be resigning from it, regrettably. I do not see any other option.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Does that mean that at that point there is no representative body with any representative on it?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

There is no one from a representative body. There are taxi drivers on it. The NTA is implying that they represent the taxi industry.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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How are those taxi drivers appointed?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

They were invited to apply.

Mr. David McGuinness:

It is an application process. People are interviewed by the Department of Transport.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Are there guaranteed de facto positions available for the representative bodies?

Mr. David McGuinness:

Under the legislation, four positions are available to the representative bodies?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Who else is on that body at the moment?

Mr. David McGuinness:

There would be company owners, some of the app companies, consumer rights representatives, a couple of disability groups and hotel organisations.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The Garda is also represented.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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There would be a lot of people on it who would be well meaning.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Absolutely.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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What would be required to get constructive dialogue over time on the future of the taxi industry from the witnesses' perspective?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Our perspective is that the decisions are made before the Taxi Advisory Committee. Before it gives advice to the Minister, the NTA has propped it up so to speak.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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If the process for the TAC were changed and decisions had to come before it before final decisions were made-----

Mr. Jim Waldron:

If the NTA were to sit down with the representatives and discuss these things-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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If it were within the forum of the TAC, would it still work?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

The fundamental problem is that we are not part of the decision-making. The decisions are already made before we get there.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I understand that but obviously the less change made to the system the better. If the system can be made to work more effectively, it would be easier to get movement on that. If the role of the TAC were changed slightly, would the witnesses go back on it?

Mr. David McGuinness:

During the pandemic, Tiománaí Tacsaí Na hÉireann made proposals for the reform of the Taxi Advisory Committee before any of the groups would-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. McGuinness gave us those.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Yes. The first point is that a clause or provision needs to be put in place to allow taxi representatives to pause any advice being offered to the Minister with which the majority of taxi representatives do not concur until the taxi representatives have direct contact with the Department to explain their objections to the proposed advice being sent to the Minister from the committee. That was a clause to hold that advice until the taxi representatives look at the implications of the advice being sent, explain it to the Department of Transport and hopefully get the issues resolved.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We will come back on that. There are four key points for me. There are other points that have been brought up that I want to cover.

Mr. James Maguire:

The nine-year rule.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I am bringing that in with regard to what is happening on 1 January just to tie it in. What interactions have the groups had with Ministers? Have they met them?

Mr. David McGuinness:

We have met the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport during the pandemic as we were representing the industry. However, since the end of the pandemic, we have had no contact. Just as we have done, I am sure the other groups have written to the Department of Transport and the Minister for Transport seeking meetings.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We can follow up on that.

Mr. David McGuinness:

We have had no positive interaction since the end of the Covid pandemic.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We did not touch on this while I was here. How are taxi drivers finding the cost of overheads, fuel and insurance? How is what is happening at the moment impacting them on the ground? There was reference earlier to the fare. I ask for a general overview on that. We have spoken a great deal about technicalities; I want to know what it is like for taxi drivers being able to make a living.

Mr. Philip Egan:

The problem with the fare is that it took five years. We should probably be getting an increase every year. A committee should not take two and a half years to decide if we are getting an increase. For everyone driving a diesel or petrol car, the diesel or petrol bill has doubled. When it exceeded €2 a litre, we asked for a subvention of €1. We were told that under no circumstances would we get that. App companies are putting on subventions of €1 for technologies. The Government gave truck driver companies subsidies.

In a way insurance has stabilised. I am sure all the representatives present will agree with me that new men and women coming into the business are being crucified by car insurance. I believe they will pay a minimum of €6,000.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

It was €8,200 for a guy coming in.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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What is the typical cost for an established taxi driver?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

It is €2,500.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Therefore, it is treble the amount.

Mr. Philip Egan:

It is treble.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Members of an association get it a bit cheaper sometimes.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Will being a member of an association bring it down by much?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

It can do.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Would it apply even to a new person?

Mr. Philip Egan:

The problem with the new man or woman coming in is that he or she has to pay the first year's insurance upfront. I can pay by direct debit. You pay three months upfront and then pay over nine months or six months. You have two options.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I am not seeing new entrants.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Axa will not insure a new entrant to the market. In fairness, we have been in partnership with a new insurance company as well. It has been very good to us regarding new entrants to the market, but Axa will not entertain new entrants to the market.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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How many insurance companies are providing insurance to taxi firms?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

I would be aware of one for new applicants.

Mr. Philip Egan:

Technically, we have three. We have Axa, Liberty Insurance and Zego.

Mr. James Maguire:

We actually have four; we have FBD as well.

Mr. Philip Egan:

For new applicants?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

No, so-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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In summary, there is a difficult environment at the moment. It is a very difficult environment for people to enter. The price of fuel is high. Once it gets to the €2 a litre peak, it puts terrible pressure on.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

One hundred percent. For a new entrant going into the rental market with his or her rental vehicle, and given the costs of insurance and diesel, it is not really a good place. It is not very attractive for new entrants.

Mr. Philip Egan:

We have men and women coming in with seven-seaters, such as Ford Transits. They are receiving quotes of between €13,000 and €16,000. The car costs €50,000. A lot of these men and women have made a big mistake. They are putting a deposit on a car when they have not found out the insurance cost. A brand-new entrant in the business may put down his or her €2,000 only to find out he or she cannot get insurance. The car companies are not giving the deposit back.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Can I ask another question? Have the witnesses any great issue with the cashless aspect, as in being able to pay by card?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Some 90% of taxi drivers have had a cashless facility but I have to emphasise that a driver takes home less money when he or she uses a cashless payment system. It could be up to 5% less. If you were to ask people whether they wanted to take a 5% reduction to their wage every week, you would find they would not. It costs the taxi driver to use the cashless payment system.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Are taxi drivers still predominantly male? Are they be in an older age group? Is that a fair question?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

They are predominantly male, and 60 is the average age-----

Mr. Philip Egan:

The statistics show the average age in the cities is 60. The average age outside the cities is 72.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Male or female?

Mr. Philip Egan:

Predominantly male. We have 14% over 80 driving a taxi.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

I will give another example. I am 49 years of age and 30 years in the industry but I am still one of the youngest taxi drivers out there.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I am a Deputy from Limerick city. Taxis are an integral part of what we do. We will go through these points with the NTA. Since the witnesses have TFI on their logo, it means they are essentially part of the public transport family. The question is how we proceed in that regard. I am a big believer in EVs. Every time I get it-----

A Witness:

Do you have one yourself?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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No, I do not have one myself. Mr. Waldron stated the witnesses are a great advertisement; they are. The best authorities bar none on EVs at the moment are taxi drivers.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

I will give the Chairman three years.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

You have to realise the value of the car when you trade it in.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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With climate change and everything else, I am a believer in an integrated model with road and rail. We have to move towards the EV model. It is just the way it is. It is just one of those things we have to accept.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The Chairman is from Limerick, the next county down from which is County Clare, which has the Cliffs of Moher. Some of our drivers have to turn down great jobs to the Cliffs of Moher because they drive EVs. It is because there is no infrastructure.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I accept all that.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

The infrastructure is as important as the advertising of the car on the road. When people start saying they can go from A to B and not worry about charging-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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That is the role of the Government.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

That is vital.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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The Government cannot expect the taxi industry to move without the infrastructure. I accept all that.

Our engagement today was productive. The witnesses may feel we have missed particular points. I believe we have probably covered the bulk of them. There will be a public meeting with the NTA on the subject roughly at this time next week. The witnesses can follow up with us afterwards with their observations on what was covered, and the committee will come up with a submission, probably for both the NTA and the Minister.

Mr. James Maguire:

They do not have to take the committee's advice, do they?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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We have a role as public representatives. Certainly at this committee we have been pretty proactive on a range of measures-----

Mr. James Maguire:

I am asking whether the committee has teeth.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I will put it this way: if the witnesses look at our output to date, and considering that some have said we-----

Mr. James Maguire:

I know it is impartial.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Well, we are not a talking shop. We will make a submission. The representatives are not in here just to talk to us; they are in here for us to get a brief so we can then plug into the various bodies.

Mr. James Maguire:

That is fair enough to me.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

The Chairman hit the nail on the head when he said we are either part of the TFI or not.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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It struck me. I remember the debacle when the TFI stickers were going on. For me, it is about an holistic model. Can we do without the taxis? No, we cannot. At the end of the day, for a myriad of reasons, people under pressure for time will take a taxi, be it in a rural area or an urban one. For someone with a son or daughter out late at night, but particularly a daughter, the taxi drivers' service is very good. I was out with two of my daughters recently. Using an app, it was possible to get two taxis, which arrived within two or three minutes. It was a great service.

Mr. Philip Egan:

The committee is going to talk to the NTA. I realise there are major financial pressures for everybody in the budget. We are allowed only €15 million at the moment and €5 million is not being allocated because we cannot get vehicles, but maybe if the committee wanted to up the ante and surge forward-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Waldron made a good point. If we are promoting EVs for the taxi industry, we have to have some sort of quota priority system. That needs to be examined also. We will push on that.

I do not want to keep the witnesses too long. Does Deputy Ó Murchú wish to come back in briefly?

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the witnesses. This meeting has been comprehensive, and they have laid the issues out cleanly. Their point on taxi drivers being good salespeople for vehicles is a definite. I do not have an EV. I bought a Skoda Octavia on the basis of a recommendation by a taxi driver friend of mine who always drives one. I bought it after he told me he saw it for sale. My NCT expiry date was the next day so I had no choice but to buy. In fairness, you notice it. I am not going to repeat what has been said. In fairness to the Chairman, he has covered an awful lot of the major considerations, including the fit-for-purpose EV scheme and all the rest of it.

I am going to go back to two of the questions I asked earlier. There is still the issue of the illegal operators. I do not believe I got an answer to my question on taxi driver safety. This is an issue I have heard about. Could I get something on that?

At an organisational level, what interaction would there be on the likes of the Garth Brooks concert, and how would the witnesses envisage it happening?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

As I have said, we have been asking for a liaison officer within the Garda. We ask to be consulted or to be part of the process concerning such events.

With regard to the safety of taxi drivers, there are systems that drivers can use to try to help themselves, such as personal attack systems. However, we really need a liaison officer so we can have direct contact with the Garda.

This is for when incidents happen so they are not just forgotten about. A lot of drivers do not report. They say there is no point in reporting anymore as opposed to them coming into their association and saying "I was attacked last night". It may have been a minor incident or it may have been serious and they say that they may not carry on. We will say: "Hang on a second, we have someone you can talk to." The driver will then get advice professionally from An Garda Síochána. It is vitally important that the Garda be part of the taxi system also.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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One can address problems when they arise and I have seen it myself.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

They might also help us in the operation of the system. If one goes to the 3Arena to do a pick up the driver is not allowed to stop. It is not just that there is no taxi rank, there is no place for a driver to stop to pick up a person at the 3Arena. This type of thing coming from a garda might make sense to another garda, because they do not seem to be listening to the taxi drivers.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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That is a straight ask. Again, some of this may also be the fact that some of these problems may well have been dealt with if the Taxi Advisory Committee was fit for purpose.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Deputy Ó Murchú made the point about the safety of drivers. The 20,000 men and women in the taxi industry all have families. A lot of people are getting to the stage now where they are reading about assaults regularly in the newspapers. Wives and mothers are at home reading these things as well. We must give some consideration to the families who are depending on the taxi drivers.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The representatives have stated clearly how difficult it is for a new entrant coming in with everything from insurance to the rentals and whatever. A serious concern at the minute would be safety. A lot of physical taxi ranks have closed on the basis that people are afraid of the interactions after 12 midnight.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

I was concerned at the discussion earlier when there was talk of putting the taxi ranks down back lanes. That is a retrograde step.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Reference was made to the judgment of the taxi driver. Late at night one is dealing with people who are heavily intoxicated-----

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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And worse these days.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

They are heavily intoxicated, and we all know that drug taking is very prevalent. It is going on. The way they can take drugs on the street seems to be very free and easy. Again, taxi drivers are getting the first brunt of these people, and especially if the car is full. When they try to get into the car this can cause a commotion. We have all dealt with it in our careers in the taxi industry. It becomes a judgment thing at night.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I get that. It was brought up earlier, and it has been brought up with me. Sometimes, because everyone is operating their own business, some people may say that we do not have enough taxi drivers that can carry people with disabilities or with mobility issues. I get that this can be a huge outlay of money for an individual taxi driver.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

If we want to talk about being very serious about it, if a person does attack a taxi driver during a night out, we want harsher measures. We do not want it to be a slap on the wrist and the excuse that he had a few drinks on a night out. A person may have destroyed a car and physically hurt the taxi driver.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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There is the previous point also that we want to make sure that it actually gets dealt with.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We want harsher penalties for people so they would think about it twice.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Yes, it is serious assault.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Consider also the lady taxi drivers out at night time. We must think of how vulnerable they are.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Some people say that it is incredibly difficult in small towns, or even not so small towns, to get a taxi that can take a person if he or she is a wheelchair user. I accept that for an individual taxi driver it can be a big outlay of money to get the proper vehicle. Could I get the witnesses' views straight on that?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

People entering into the industry with wheelchair accessible vehicles are grant aided. Our association has endorsed the fact that we believe to get the grant aid drivers should be able to prove that they are providing the service they are subsidised to do. Taxi drivers who have wheelchair accessible vehicles should have a record of the people they pick up and, if needed, provide this. They may be more available. We believe that people are entering into the industry with grant aid and are not providing those services.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Right. That point would need to be checked.

Mr. David McGuinness:

As Mr. Waldron has explained, we have a situation where drivers are getting grant aid to take out a wheelchair accessible vehicle. On the other hand, however, the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, will only take in new permits for wheelchair accessible vehicles. A driver is being grant aided to go out to work with the vehicle he or she has to support people who are disabled-----

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Is that a requirement to get into the DAA?

Mr. David McGuinness:

-----but all the recently grant-aided wheelchair accessible vehicles have been hoovered up by the DAA and are not available for work in the city.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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With unintended consequences.

Mr. David McGuinness:

That should stop.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

There are times then when the DAA does need wheelchair accessible taxis out there but people are getting off wheelchairs and getting into saloon cars.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We have a whole pile of unintended consequences. It seems there has been a lack of planning. We will all set up systems that can be imperfect but there does not seem to be any means of actually chasing and checking in this regard.

I have a last point to make. Based on the witnesses' accents this might not be an issue that has ever come up but it is an issue I have had in Dundalk where people with Northern licences who are living in the North would like to work in towns such as Dundalk. There is an issue with them actually going for passenger service vehicle, PSV, licences. Trying to get any sort of communication from the NTA on their behalf is not great, even for me.

Mr. James Maguire:

To register with the NTA the car must be an Irish registered car-----

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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That is accepted, but in some cases that is not the problem. It is just whether-----

Mr. James Maguire:

-----not a Northern registered-----

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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To be clear, lots of them will have gone through the rigmarole and would have come up with an address and will have come up with the southern licence and all of that. Once again, it is a bit of an Irish solution. I was wondering if any of the witnesses had ever come across the issue. It is something I will be putting to the NTA.

Mr. James Maguire:

I do not think it is going to cause much hassle. It is very restrictive coming into this business. A driver would need €40,000 to start off in this business, or maybe €50,000, depending on what type of vehicle the person is going to buy and whether they get it grant aided or not.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I was only checking whether the matter had ever come across the witnesses' radar.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Is the Deputy talking about someone who lives in Northern Ireland and wants to work in the South?

Mr. David McGuinness:

I do not understand the Deputy's point.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Is the Deputy talking about people who have a taxi licence outside the Dublin area working in the Dublin area?

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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No. That is not what I am asking. On some levels it is an unfair question but-----

Mr. Alan Cooley:

Perhaps the Deputy will ask it again because a lot of us are confused here.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I will tell the witnesses what I am talking about. I like introducing a level of chaos. I am talking about Dundalk for example. Obviously there is a huge number of people in south Down and south Armagh who work in Dundalk. A number of people have approached me who live in the North, have Northern Ireland licences-----

Mr. David McGuinness:

Is it a Northern Ireland driver's licence or taxi licence?

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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It is a Northern Ireland driver's licence. They are looking to do the PSV for the South to operate a car in Dundalk, being facilitated by someone who-----

Interruptions.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The difficulty is that the NTA will not allow them to sit the test but will not give me a straight answer. The witnesses have referred to bad communication or lack of communication with the NTA. I have had plenty of that over the summer in relation to this.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

The Deputy is lucky that the NTA would talk to him and he got somewhere with them.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

If the address is in the North the NTA would know this through the vetting. That is what I would suggest.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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They are allowed to use certain other licences.

Mr. Des Dempsey:

The paperwork would show the home addresses for licences from Northern Ireland.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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A committee member has arrived now and I want to let him in. We must be out of the committee room by 4.30 p.m. regardless.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Chairman. I have been following the debate from the office. The afternoons here get quite chaotic so there were other meetings clashing. I have been following a lot of what the witnesses have been saying and I do not want to rehash. I ask the witnesses to please use my speaking time to get their points across. This is a platform for them rather than us. We get to speak in the Dáil every day. It is important the representatives would use the time.

I have three quick questions. If the witnesses want to go in other directions in getting their message really hammered home here, then please feel free. I am aware that the witnesses are on top of the challenges, of which there are many facing the sector. A late uncle of mine was a taxi driver for years. Times were a bit better then and I believe it is a lot tougher on taxi drivers now. I would like to know if there are any opportunities for taxi drivers now. Are there any opportunities in particular? I am a County Clare Deputy and in rural areas do the witnesses see opportunities that the NTA, the Government, or the local authorities are not really allowing in order for drivers to really get into communities or is it the case that a family will not make that €40,000 expenditure in order to get into the industry?

Mr. James Maguire:

The NTA has not listened to us in years. Things could be very much streamlined. The committee might have heard me say that, come January, February and March, about 4,000 vehicles will come off the road if their drivers cannot raise the finance because of the age of the vehicle, so we need the age of the vehicle. That has to be stressed when the representation from the NTA comes before the committee. The age rule has to be extended to 15 years. It covers a lot of things. It avoids the complication of the EV grants because if you get an EV grant and your licence is due on 31 December, your licence goes out of date, which disbars you from taking up that grant. It should be remembered that there are buses and coaches from 2004 out there. They all go for DOE tests, and when they pass those tests they are safer. They have seat belts. We have cars with 131 and 121 licence plates. They are lovely Mercedes, Lexus, Avensis - the whole lot. They go through an NCT and a suitability test. That should suffice.

We are in different times now. We are only coming out of Covid. This has to be done, and it is very important that the committee stress that to the NTA.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Point well made.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

There are opportunities, and I think the local councils around the country are missing out on them. Usually, a taxi rank will be in a prime spot. There is no reason that taxi ranks should not be electrified in order that electric cars can be charged while their drivers work. Every taxi rank in the country could be electrified for taxi drivers to use. It is a missed opportunity. I mentioned earlier a trip to County Clare. Drivers are turning down such trips because they cannot get a charge to come back up. There is only one charger in Clare, I believe. It is in Lahinch. Drivers are not going to go there on the basis that somebody else may be there. Taxi ranks throughout the country should be electrified-----

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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That brings me on to my next question and the very point of local authorities. Everywhere, be it Ennis or Limerick city, where our Chairman is from, we have cycleways and new paving schemes being brought into towns. The taxi rank was always on the main thoroughfare, the square or the main street. At 12.30 a.m. or 1 a.m. you knew exactly where to get your taxi to get safely home. It is harder to find a rank now when you are out. They are up a side street or at a different rank. Are local authorities squeezing taxis out by the way they provide ranks?

We always hear about integrated travel. At the railway stations now you come out and Dublinbikes is here and the Luas is operating there, but the taxi system now has to weave its way into the station and back out. To me, it seems very cumbersome. I came through the station at 2.10 p.m. today and it seems all transport forms are very well catered for, but I feel that taxis used to be easier to get at the station, and that is just Heuston Station. Are local authorities, Irish Rail and other Government bodies making it difficult for taxis to operate at ranks?

Mr. David McGuinness:

I think we made the point to the Chair earlier that all the groups here, and taxi drivers in general, feel that the local county and city councils and the National Transport Authority are making it tougher for taxi drivers to operate. Dublin has had eight to ten prime taxi ranks removed over the past five to six years, and they have been replaced with taxi ranks down back alleys, where nobody wants to go to get a taxi. It looks like it is a deliberate policy to keep the taxis circling, not to give us a proper space and not to give the customers a recognised area, as they always used to have, to pick up a taxi.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Point well made.

The next point I will make I made to Bus Éireann some months ago, when I met with its chief executive, and I think the same applies to the witnesses. I might get a bus once or twice a month, but my dad had to get one lately and did not have a clue when he got on the bus what to do. He was fumbling in his pockets for change and wondering if he had to tap a card. It can be confusing for someone who does not use a bus very often. Where is the bus stop? How does the numbering system work? It is almost the same now for people who get taxis because the taxis pass them on the street, the Free Now branding is on some of them and they are not quite sure how to interface with the taxi when they get in. Has the fare already been charged on the phone? Do they need to pay by card or cash? It would be no harm if at taxi ranks the witnesses' representative associations were to have little guidance notices-----

Mr. David McGuinness:

That should be up to the NTA. I disagree that the representative groups should deal with that. That is about the NTA.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Fair point.

Mr. David McGuinness:

However, if permanent structures are put up at taxi ranks, like what Mr. Waldron is calling for, with EV charging points, it makes them nearly impossible to move when the NTA wants to move them in two or three months' time. If permanent infrastructure is put up at a taxi rank, it cannot really be ripped back up in six months' time when the NTA wants to put a nice bike rack there. That is one of the overall problems with the NTA and, in our area, Dublin City Council. They want to make it easy to remove taxi ranks whenever they want. That is why you do not see the likes of that information or shelters or electric vehicle charging points at taxi stands. It is because they need to be easily removed.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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The taxi bay, in Mr. McGuinness's opinion, should be a fixed structure.

Mr. David McGuinness:

Yes.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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It should not be movable within the-----

Mr. David McGuinness:

It should be fixed for as long as possible.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with Mr. McGuinness.

Mr. David McGuinness:

It should not be a part of the transport infrastructure that at the drop of a hat is removed without even talking to the taxi drivers who work there or the organisations involved. We got notification that one of the other prime city centre taxi ranks was being removed for BusConnects. This was a couple of months ago. The irony is that, as we were walking in the door of this committee room today, we got an email from Dublin City Council stating that it will consult with us about that. I wonder was it because this meeting was taking place or is it just a coincidence that that message was sent out just as were walking in the door because it is the first time we have had any communication from Dublin City Council in five years regarding-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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At least we have done something constructive. It was worth the witnesses' while coming in for that alone.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I think some of the cost factors that have been gone through today are for the Minister and the Department to properly look at and to resolve, and there is an upcoming budget, but there are things our committee, I think, could action. I refer to the suggestion that in an urban environment a certain protection is given to the taxi rank, wherever it might be, whether Dublin city, Ennis or Limerick. The whole move over the past three years has been towards cycleways, active travel and so on. It just seems to me that the taxi rank is lost within that equation. E-scooters and rental bikes are fine, but coming out of a pub or nightclub at 1.30 a.m. people are not going to get e-scooters home. On a rainy winter's night it is the taxi we have always gone home in. It is the safest and the quickest way home and keeps you dry until you get to bed. They need to be protected. Maybe our committee could recommend that to the NTA on foot of everything the witnesses have said, and that ranks become permanent structures. Nearly every city centre and town centre now is being overhauled with paving schemes. An accommodation needs to be given more permanently to the taxi drivers.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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It would be remiss of me not to bring this up. Someone referred to it earlier. Since Covid, first, people have left the sector and, second, there does not appear to be as many drivers going out at night and in the early mornings. Whether it is right or wrong, taxis are at this moment in time the public transport vehicle for people after probably 12 midnight - not everywhere but in many cases, at night, coming out of nightclubs and pubs. Many of the witnesses' members appear not to be working late at night. Can they address that for me?

Mr. Des Dempsey:

I go out and work and I will scout around the streets and on the apps right up to around 12 midnight looking for fares. Taxis are queuing up and even illegally parking trying to get some work. Then all the buses and the mainstream transport goes off the road and the whole pressure comes on the taxi system. When that starts happening - it is exactly what Mr. Brennan said earlier - there is mayhem. People come out on the roads. Some are drunk and some have other substances in their systems. It is a jungle out there. Then we lock into a protection mode until 4 a.m. We have to start asking "Where are you going?" and so on just to make sure they will not be troublesome to us.

It is about security first.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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How do we get to a point where more taxi drivers will provide a late-night service? Mr. Cooley stated that trains and buses should also operate late at night but how do we deal with that?

Mr. Alan Cooley:

There is also staggered openings of venues. At the moment-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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No, I am approaching this from the consumer side.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

From the consumer side, consumers want taxis out there.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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They want taxis out there.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

There are-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I am not saying they are not there.

Mr. Alan Cooley:

We have to wait and see what will happen with the fare increase. The fare increase has taken effect and drivers are starting to come back out. It is worth their while to come out after 12 midnight. It is a very fair increase, at 12%. Again, this is a process, coming out of Covid, of getting these drivers out and making them feel safe. They are making a little more money on a Friday o-----

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Is there anything that should be done, whether on infrastructure or whatever else, that would encourage taxi drivers to come out into those late hours?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Making taxi ranks more visible and safer for people to use. Perhaps the ranks could be marshalled.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Waldron would go to that extreme.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Absolutely, yes. I do not want to pull up at a taxi rank where 20 people are fighting to get into my taxi. I will drive off somewhere else until I see one person or two people on their own.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Who has that function? Is that a function of the local authorities?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

Yes, the local authorities or the NTA.

Mr. James Maguire:

CCTV cameras could also be provided on the ranks.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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It is even more than that. The only way to overcome large queues is to have more taxis operating. There will be fewer people queuing if there are more taxis operating. There are a number of factors involved.

Mr. Jim Waldron:

It is a chicken and egg situation. The environment must be made safer for taxi drivers. I know money is important to everybody but it is not only about money. It is also about better policing. We hear this repeated over and over.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Given that there are fewer taxi drivers, by definition, there are fewer drivers coming out at all times. Is there an exponential reduction in the number coming out for the late-night gig? Is that a fair comment?

Mr. Jim Waldron:

There is a cycle in a taxi driver's life. Many of them are new entrants. According to some figures, there are 500 new entrants. People come in to the industry very enthusiastic and work day and night until something happens. When something happens they have to reassess everything and ask if it is worth their while going out to get an extra few quid and possibly be attacked again. It comes down to policing. That is why I keep emphasising liaison with An Garda Síochána. It is about the safety element of the job as well as being rewarded financially for it.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Cooley, Mr. McGuinness, Mr. Barrett, Mr. Waldron, Mr. Brennan, Mr. Maguire and Mr. Dempsey, as well as Mr. Egan who was with us earlier, for assisting the committee on this important matter. Mr. Barrett has had to leave as well.

We will follow up on this issue with the NTA next week. We look forward to further engagement with the organisations that appeared today. It is very much at their discretion if they wish to raise other issues or make a further submission. They should keep an eye on proceedings. We would welcome any observations they may make on the meeting with the NTA next week. The committee will follow up with the NTA, the Minister for Transport and any other bodies we deem relevant, such as the Department of Justice, which was mentioned earlier.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.34 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 September 2022.