Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Question 96: To ask the Minister for Transport progress on implementing Government policy for ensuring that 10% of the taxi fleet is wheelchair accessible by the end of 2010; the way the new EU Directive 76/115 EEC as amended, requiring new standards for wheelchair accessible vehicles will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35231/10]
I understand that the Commission for Taxi Regulation's new reform programme seeks to achieve a 10% target of wheelchair accessible taxis and hackneys. Since June 2010 new small public service vehicle, SPSV, licences are issued only in respect of wheelchair accessible vehicles and a new category of wheelchair accessible hackney was introduced. I have been advised by the commission that currently 6% of the fleet is wheelchair accessible.
The European Communities (Road Vehicles; Type Approval) Regulations 2009 (SI No. 158 of 2009) gives effect to Directive 2007/46/EC on type-approval of motor vehicles, trailers and components and includes a reference to Directive 76/115/EEC on anchorages for safety belts. All special purpose vehicles, including wheelchair accessible taxis, must comply with Directive 76/115/EEC since April 2009 for all new vehicles and by 29 April 2012 for all other vehicles.
I understand that the commission has put in place new standards for wheelchair accessible vehicles to improve overall standards, which take into consideration EC implementation of type approval - Directive 2007/46/EC.
This is something of a fairytale. A total of 6% of taxis are wheelchair accessible, yet the programme for Government states 100% of taxis will be accessible by the end of 2010. What has happened to that commitment? The taxi regulator is only seeking that 10% of the fleet be wheelchair accessible by the end of the year while the Irish Wheelchair Association is seeking a minimum of 20%. New European Union regulations will have to be implemented by the end of 2012. That means the 6% of taxis currently complying with the regulations will be put off the road since they will be unable to comply with the new regulations because it will cost an arm and a leg to do so. No hackney in the State is wheelchair accessible. What are the Minister's plan to meet any of the targets such as 10% of the fleet or to even retain the current 6%? His own 100% cannot be met.
This matter comes under the remit of the Commission on Taxi Regulation. The recently announced regulations in this regard provide for the 10% target and provide that new licences will only be issued for taxis that are wheelchair accessible. This will increase the percentage of wheelchair accessible taxis. In addition, the taxi regulator made a proposal for a scheme to assist those who want to provide such taxis but it did not find favour because of difficulties with VAT regulations and the EU. A further proposal is being considered, which might help. The new regulations and proposal should help to increase the supply of wheelchair accessible taxis.
No new wheelchair accessible taxis are coming on stream because it costs more than €40,000 to meet this requirement. Even though new taxi licences will be limited to such taxis, they are not coming on stream and, therefore, the Minister is not addressing the reality. There is also a requirement that all taxis older than nine years will be scrapped and most wheelchair accessible taxis are in that age profile. The taxi regulator made a reasonable proposal to the Minister. She has a kitty of €24 million, which she cannot spend, but the Minister can permit her to spend it in accordance with the proposal that 50% of the money in the kitty goes towards a subsidy or grant for the purchase of wheelchair accessible taxis to meet demand, given that between 10% and 15% of the population have a serious mobility problem. The Minister has it within his powers to do so and boost the number of wheelchair accessible taxis. We are not doing justice to the people we serve, including the disabled and the elderly.
I accept that the Commission on Taxi Regulation has endeavoured to put a scheme in place. The first scheme it put forward was not acceptable or workable and the second is being considered. I will consider it as urgently as I can in light of the finances available over the next few months.