Thursday, 22 September 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to set out the efforts he is making to ensure the sustainability and viability of the taxi sector; if he will abandon or extend by five years the ten-year rule; if he will relax constraints preventing the transfer of plates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46549/22]
I want to ask the Minister about the efforts he is making to ensure the sustainability and viability of the taxi sector; if he will abandon or extend by five years the ten-year rule; if he will relax constraints preventing the transfer of plates; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I assure the Deputy that I as Minister, and the National Transport Authority, NTA, as the statutory taxi regulator, are committed to ensuring a sustainable and viable taxi sector. That commitment is evidenced by the supports introduced in recent years to assist the sector as it dealt with, and now recovers from, the Covid-19 pandemic. These supports include the electric small public service vehicles, eSPSV, grant scheme to which I allocated €15 million this year and which supports drivers in their transition to zero- or low-emission vehicles. The eSPSV business loan provided by Microfinance Ireland is also there to support those SPSV owners accessing the eSPSV grant scheme who are unable to secure finance from financial institutions. The Government's generally applicable reduction in fuel-related duties introduced this year has also helped.
The NTA's previous extensions of the maximum permissible age for vehicles ensured no operator exited the industry simply because of the need to replace a vehicle. The NTA launched a driver recruitment campaign this summer to promote the sector as a place of employment for people. The NTA recently announced new fares, which are weighted in favour of those drivers working at unsocial hours, late at night and on bank holidays. In addition, this week the NTA announced a public consultation on a further extension to the maximum permissible age of vehicles in recognition of the difficulties currently being experienced by operators in sourcing new vehicles.
Finally, the transfer of licences is currently prohibited under the legislation. However, there are exceptions provided in the case of the death of a licence holder and that licence holder has previously nominated another individual to operate the licence. I know the issue of transferability was a topic of discussion recently at the advisory committee on SPSVs and I understand the committee intends to consider the issue further.
There has been a welcome U-turn on the ten-year rule. We have discussed this on a number of occasions in the Chamber and in the committee. I believe there was intransigence on the part of the responsible authorities, which flew in the face of the obvious. I welcome that there has been a U-turn and that there is a consultation, which I hope will come to a successful conclusion. An extension of the ten-year rule will mean that up to 4,000 vehicles will not be off the road next year. Is the whole episode not proof-positive that the Taxi Advisory Committee does not work? It is not reflective of the taxi sector. It is not putting its hand up and saying we need these interventions from the NTA. The NTA told us yesterday that it was an executive decision. The Taxi Advisory Committee does not work. Will the Minister scrap it?
It is the job of the NTA to make executive decisions. It is the job of the advisory committee to give advice and to consider and inform what the NTA and the Department do. Far from it being a U-turn, it recognises the reality that it is very difficult to get the vehicles at the present time. Everyone knows this. There is a global supply shock in terms of the availability of vehicles. To be honest, having to do an extension is not ideal. We want a modern fleet. That is not to say anything against taxi drivers or the industry; it is a case of setting certain standards. In circumstances where the world is in a state of supply shock, it is correct to come to this alternative decision. The decision will go to public consultation for a number of weeks, but I expect it will be introduced. I am pleased the NTA took that decision.
I hope it is introduced but it is a U-turn. A number of months ago when I raised the issue with the Minister, he could not have been more categoric in his opposition to it, despite the fact that at the time taxi drivers right across the country were shouting from the rooftops about the impending crisis. The job of the Taxi Advisory Committee is to advise. The NTA told us yesterday that it did not advise on the impending crisis. At the transport committee last week, we heard from the four groups representing taxi drivers across the country. They are not part of the Taxi Advisory Committee because they see it as a talking shop that does nothing to serve the interests of the taxi industry. The fact that the advisory committee was not shouting from the rooftop that this impending crisis was on the way is proof-positive of that. It is not fit for purpose. It is provided for in legislation but I believe it needs to be scrapped. Will the Minister scrap it and replace it with a proper forum for taxi drivers?
No. I very much respect the various taxi associations in Dublin and I engaged with them over the years. They have a vital role, but there are also organisations right across the country and a whole variety of different interests when it comes to licensed vehicles. The advisory body must be a national one. I hope it can include some taxi organisations in Dublin and I would very much encourage that. My approach is not to scrap it. The make-up may change over time, as it should, and it will continue to do so but I do not think it would help anyone in any way to scrap it and set up a very similar national organisation to do the same thing.