Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Taxi Regulation Bill 2012: Committee Stage
Government amendments Nos. 1 and 36 are related. Amendment No. 37 is an alternative to Government amendment No. 36. Government amendments Nos. 1 and 36 and amendment No. 37 may be discussed together, by agreement.
Government amendment No. 1: In page 8, to delete lines 18 to 21 and substitute the following: " "dispatch operator" means a person who provides for reward a booking service for an intending passenger to contact him or her to arrange for the hire and carriage of the intending passenger in a small public service vehicle operated or driven by another person (other than an employee of the first-mentioned person) but does not include a person employed by the first-mentioned person to take or manage the taking of bookings in the course of that service or a person marshalling in a public place (within the meaning of the Act of 1961) the services of small public service vehicles;".
Amendment No. 1 to section 2 provides for a more precise definition of "dispatch operator" who is involved in booking and dispatching taxis. This definition distinguishes services provided by a "dispatch operator" from other similar services, such as marshalling taxis in a public place, for which a licence under NTA regulations is not required.
Government amendment No. 36 to section 19 provides for prohibition on acting without a licence as a dispatch operator or as a booking service provider for services requiring a licence under regulations made by the NTA.
I cannot agree to amendment No. 37 to section 19 which seeks the deletion of subsections (7) and (8). Subsection (7) prohibits a person from acting as a dispatch operator or providing booking services for small public services vehicles where a licence is required and subsection (8) creates an offence in this regard.
This prohibition and offence will enable the NTA to enforce effectively the regulation concerning the licensed operation of these services.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for initiating this legislation here. The object, we hope, is to improve it if we can or to assist the Minister of State if we can, and if we cannot do so, I am sure it will go forward to the other House.
My response is to ask what is the point. A dispatch operator is the person who provides a booking service for an intending passenger. It is somebody who answers the telephone. Regulation is expensive and bureaucracy is expensive. What is wrong with somebody who answers the telephone? I do not see why it is necessary. It used be in the literature that this was necessary because persons could achieve monopolies to take control over the sector, but the Goodbody report shows that the dispatch operator share of the market is down, from 51.2% to 38.4%. The danger of them acquiring a monopoly is not serious.
Is this regulatory creep? Is the NTA merely looking for extra functions which really perform nothing? Does the Minister of State fancy prosecuting persons who answer the telephone? How persons get taxis these days is by hailing them in the street or by telephoning the taxi driver directly. That is now the dominant part of the market, where persons leave cards into one's house, etc. The NTA is in search of extra functions. I honestly do not see the point of trying to regulate the booking sector. If somebody can book tickets for functions, etc., and a taxi as well, why do dispatch operators need to be licensed by the National Transport Authority which has a track record of always preventing competition? This is starting off as relatively nebulous but it can be used to prevent competition because that is the track record of the body which will be administering it.
I do not see the necessity for it. It is up to persons themselves how they book a taxi. They are choosing dispatch operators ever less frequently. That is the choice they have made. That is the spirit in which I put forward the amendment. If the Minister of State thinks it is important and convinces me that it is, I would be pleased to hear that. I merely wonder. The Government is trying to cut back on bureaucracy and trying to balance the books of the country. Commendable strides were made last week and I commend the Minister of State and his colleagues. What is the point in regulating something that does not need to be regulated?
I support Senator Sean D. Barrett. I use taxis from time to time. I note, from friends in particular, that there is a mobile phone application where one can push a button and get the closest taxi which will be with one within four minutes.
The other point I would make is that amendment No. 36 seems completely redundant, if not fatuous. It seeks to insert the following in the Bill:
"(7) A person shall not act as a dispatch operator or provide booking services for small public service vehicles where such services require a licence under regulations made by the Authority unless that person holds a licence in that regard.".In other words, one cannot have a job that requires a licence unless one has a licence. What is the big news? That is a waste of ink. If one must have a licence to have a job, then it is perfectly obvious that one needs a licence to get the job. It seems redundant unless I am missing some legal nicety.
I thank the Senators. I cannot accept the amendment. For starters, I do not accept that the NTA is over-regulating this. We are ensuring there is the appropriate licensing of dispatch operators who have an intermediary function which needs to be regulated in some form.
I accept wholly what the Senators stated on the disintermediation of such dispatch operators. The different applications, such as the mobile phone applications and the online applications, are changing the face of how one books and interacts with taxis. More change will happen, some of which I will announce in the coming weeks. I cannot accept the amendment proposed by the Senator.
If the Minister of State is going down this avenue why does he not license telephone operators? They often come into contact with sensitive information. They dispatch not only taxis but ambulances, fire brigades and the police. As far as I know they are not licensed and anybody can get a job there. Many of them seem to be poets, certainly at my local exchange.
The Minister of State has not addressed my comments on amendment No. 36, that it is redundant and simply states one must have a licence because one must have a licence. I genuinely ask because I may have missed something. It does not seem to me to make any sense as it states if one must have a licence one must have a licence, unless the person who drafted it was infected by reading the late Gertrude Stein's line that "a rose is a rose is a rose", and decided for poetic balance to include a licence is a licence is a licence.
Not really, except to say the section is trying to ensure consistency in approach, in that dispatch operator services are licensed and appropriate licensing arrangements are included in the legislation. This is what we are trying to achieve. I accept the spirit in which the Senator tabled the amendment, but we need to ensure consistency in approach, which is why I will not accept the Senator's amendment.
I thank the Minister of State and amendments are always offered in this spirit. The crime we are creating merits a fine of ¤50,000 for telephoning for a taxi other than through somebody approved by the National Transport Authority. I know the Minister of State is trying to reform the body, but its record is always one of preventing competition at airports, between bus companies and airlines. Now one cannot even have competing telephone booking services unless the NTA approves it. If I ask Senator Norris to telephone for a taxi it will cost him ¤50,000 according to the section, which I also sought to-----
There are elements we need to regulate in transport, and there are others which would be a waste of time to regulate and will probably be overtaken by technology. I do not want to press the point. I am concerned about the priority of whoever drew up the Bill which designated a fine of ¤50,000 for telephoning for a taxi other than through somebody who got a licence from the Minister to do so. It is "licenceitis" gone out of control. I will withdraw the amendment because I am sure the Minister of State has many other interesting things to say. As is the case in other parts of the Bill this indicates a lack of perspective. The track record of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is if it moves try to stop it moving and if people set up in business try to stop them, and I am afraid it shines through in this section just as well. I cannot imagine anything less worthy of attracting a fine of ¤50,000 than booking a taxi by telephone through somebody of whom the Minister did not approve.
I thank the Senator for withdrawing the amendment. I believe dispatch operators need to be regulated. If the NTA is not aware of who will operate these services one cannot manage quality or ensure certain sensitive information is channelled in the right direction. Later we will deal with the issue of wheelchair accessible vehicles. We need certain standards. I do not accept the NTA is overzealous in this area. It has been quite moderate in its thinking. I understand what the Senator stated on the disintermediation effect, which I agree will happen over a period of time.
I do not think there is anything at all moderate about a ¤50,000 fine. I am pleased by the Minister of State's bashfulness in refusing to answer my repeated requests to address the nonsense of amendment No. 36.
I shall take pleasure in voting against it.
I shall discuss amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, together. They are minor technical amendments to section 3 and I wish to delete the term "order". Matters in the Bill to be prescribed by the National Transport Authority will be by means of regulation.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 9, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:Section 4 listed a number of laws to be repealed such as section 84 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. I have added, because it is draconian and probably unconstitutional, that we should also repeal SI 250 of 2010. Professor Paul K. Gorecki of the ESRI has pointed out that the statutory instrument is a prohibition on new entry when what the industry requested was a moratorium. I have discussed it with my legal colleagues in Trinity College Dublin and elsewhere who said that the attempt to overturn a High Court decision using a statutory instrument or legislation raised serious problems. The High Court decided in a judgment by Mr. Justice Roderick Murphy, and upheld by Mr. Justice Paul Carney in a judicial review, that one has the right to enter a sector which one has the skills and training for and the public has the right to the services of such persons. There were also two judgments on these issues made by Mr. Justice Declan Costello and Mr. Justice Hugh Geoghegan.?(d) the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 (Grant of Taxi Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 2010;?.
There was an attempt in 2010 to subvert that by stopping new entrants which, to the economist, are a vital part of an industry. When one bans new entrants then industries become fat and the pieces of paper, otherwise called a taxi licence, acquire value and could be worth ¤100,000 or more. They are worth $1 million in New York because the authorities do not let enough people join. Economically one should not ban new entrants. However, it is the law to ban them because the courts have decided. The Government never repealed the decisions made by the two judges in the High Court, in the first instance, and on judicial review to the Supreme Court. A measure like SI 250 of 2010 must be repealed by the House. I do not know how it ever got here in the first instance except that statutory instruments are printed in large bundles and are not discussed by the House. Now we have a chance to discuss the statutory instrument.
It should be repealed on the basis that Members know what the courts have said. On the last day, the Minister to his credit stated that he would wish to cap the numbers but that it cannot be done because it would be against the law. That statutory instrument should be taken away from the law as quickly as possible. If not, someone can challenge it in the High Court but it would be much better were Members to do so here. I note the Minister wishes to repeal the Act of 2003. This statutory instrument was purported to be a development of the 2003 Act. I will be delighted if it falls automatically but if not, I wish to make sure that it does.
Yes, and so am I. I salute Senator Barrett, who in my opinion justifies the existence of the Senate every day. He has rooted out something very important in this regard because it looks as though Members are purporting to use a statutory instrument to overrule a judgment that was sustained by two High Court judgments - given by two distinguished High Court judges - and in an appeal to the Supreme Court. This is not what regulations or orders, which appear to be the alternative to this, are for. This is endorsing restrictive practices. I believe that to be a reasonable description of it and such restrictive practices are noxious. Moreover, they are not welcomed by the taxi group either. I acknowledge that we rocketed from a taxi industry that was far too restrictive to one that perhaps is overly-liberated but this constitutes restrictive practice. I remember when these things were very much in view in the legal profession - they probably still are but it is not quite as bad - and attempts were made to keep people out from the professions of solicitor, barrister and so on. Something significant in this regard has been highlighted by Senator Barrett and were he to call a vote on it, he certainly would have my support.
Briefly, it is great to see that the Senators from Trinity are so united. I will reiterate a point I have made previously, which is that Senator Barrett's forensic knowledge of transport economics is something I admire hugely. In his contribution, Senator Norris referred to the overly-restricted taxi practices before deregulation. and the position in Dublin at that time was an absolute disgrace. Moreover, deregulation was necessary to deal with that because no agreement on any kind of a more lucid system was forthcoming from the taxi unions at the time. At the time, any reasonable suggestion put forward by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government was simply rubbished by the taxi unions, which wanted no change whatsoever. I agree that taxi deregulation as it has happened probably has gone too far and it is pitiful to see the whole of Dawson Street covered in taxis on a Saturday night. In this section and in the Bill in general, the Minister of State has achieved an attempt to come up with a balance. However, I suggest that it will be a movable feast in the sense that taxi regulation and legislation will be tweaked depending on needs. As society evolves and the habits of its citizens evolve over time, we probably will be obliged to address the issue of taxi regulation again and tweak it accordingly. Consequently, I suggest to my learned colleagues that they should give this legislation a chance. I am sure the Minister will be more than happy to review it in a couple of years' time, if that is deemed to be necessary.
While I has intended to await the Minister of State's reply, I will just throw this point into the mix. The Minister of State has met representatives of the Taxi Alliance of Ireland, which has been lobbying on this Bill, and much of what I am about to say comes from that organisation. In the context of regulation, I share fully all the points that have been made about deregulation but for the record, there were 22,964 licences in existence in December 2012, which equates to one licence for every 200 of the country's population. In the case of Dublin, it equates to one licence for every 103 members of the population, as opposed to the position in County Tipperary, where there is one licence for every 557 members of the population.
The representatives suggested that there should be a strategy in existence for the provision of licences on the basis of the current population within each county and that perhaps might go towards explaining why the service can be poor to customers in certain geographic locations. The taxi alliance argues that it would make more sense for taxi drivers to operate within one county only, and that it should be enforced strongly. They also make a point about the split on licences between the different categories. The Minister will have an opinion on it. They again refer to Tipperary for obvious reasons. There are 212 hackney licences there compared with 36 taxi licences, and they say it does not seem to be correct. They recommend that the situation would be examined and that a strategy would be developed before the non-transferability of licences comes into effect so that licences can be purchased for those areas where there is a lack of them, especially in those circumstances where a taxi driver suffers from a long-term illness or death.
The final point is a stark one, namely, that the Dublin commuter belt accounts for 74% of all taxi licences. If one includes the cities of Galway, Cork and Limerick, they equate to 89% of all taxi licences across the country. I am inclined to sympathise with the view of taxi drivers that it is not a fair distribution to the other 16 counties and goes some way to explaining why there is so much illegal taxi activity, which is the point I tried to make on Second Stage. Illegal activity is taking place as much in rural areas as in urban areas. I am curious to hear whether the Minister of State has any comments to make in the context of the debate so far.
Yes, it is very short. Far be it from me to chide colleagues who wander, because I am noted for it myself, but a number of contributors have wandered from the essential crux of the amendment, which seems to me to be simply that Senator Barrett objects on a sound democratic principle to the use of a regulation to overrule a judge of the High Court or Supreme Court. That is a very important point. It does not relate to whether taxis are available in Laois or Longford. It relates to the point of democracy and the role of the Oireachtas as opposed to the role of the Judiciary. Having heard what Senator Barrett said, there may well be constitutional obstacles to any Government purporting to overrule by regulation a decision of the court. I am grateful to you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for giving me the opportunity to speak because I would like to hear the Minister of State address the point.
Amendment No. 5 refers to regulations concerning the issue of licences for wheelchair accessible vehicles, WAVs, only. The restriction of the grant of new licences to WAVs seeks to ensure that the proportion of such vehicles in the overall fleet is increased. I am sure we all want that. The National Transport Authority, NTA, is now considering further measures to promote the use of such vehicles. For the present, it is appropriate to maintain the existing restriction on new licences. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.
The statutory instrument was introduced by the Commission for Taxi Regulation under the powers conferred on it under the 2003 Act. It has never been challenged but it has been judged that it is not a quantitative restriction because new licences are being issued.
The Minister of State is being disingenuous. He is erecting a huge barrier to new entrants by requiring that they must have a wheelchair accessible vehicle. He and his officials know that. It is a de facto barrier to entry which the High Court told the Department not to do. That is a serious step. I will vote against the measure. We should not be asked to undermine High Court decisions. The Minister of State knows it is a barrier to entry. His officials should know that also. It is massively more expensive to put most of the burden of catering for wheelchairs on new entrants rather than incumbents. It is discrimination. The manner in which the officials have operated is cynical. As they could not say they would ban new entrants outright they just required them to take on the charitable cause which we all share of providing for disabled people. That is a barrier to entry.
In response to the question by my good friend, Senator Conway, on why Nassau Street is awash with taxis on Saturdays, it is because 85% of business takes place between Thursday and Saturday.
Why do some counties have more taxis than others? Presumably that is related to demand but when we opened up the market, the increase in taxi numbers was far greater outside Dublin so the situation beforehand must have been really confined in country areas. That is why taxi drivers want to restore the situation where the taxi licence would again be worth ¤100,000, and it would be wrong of the Government to assist in that in any way.
We are before the troika, trying to make the sheltered sectors of this economy competitive, and invariably a Department is interfering to reduce competition. What is next? Will we tell people they cannot open a new shop because there is a surplus of shops? This is a business for the self-employed that people have entered and left. Professor Gorecki believes the adjustment is substantially complete so we do not need the NTA or the Department putting up barriers to new entrants, particularly when they have been asked not to do so in a decision of the High Court. This is an illegal request being made in the Houses by the Minister of State and Department. I will not be withdrawing this amendment.
Once again the Minister of State has signally failed to address the point of principle involved. He has invoked the natural sympathy for wheelchair occupants and while one has every identification with them - I avoid the word "sympathy" because it is patronising - this is a red herring. Senator Barrett made the point effectively; we are attempting to overturn the judgments of the highest courts in the land by ministerial regulation. That is not appropriate and that is the principle, no matter if it is to do with whaling and harpoons or public lavatories. It should not be done, it is not good practice, it is not democratic and it is not contemplated by the Constitution. Senator Barrett has said it is illegal and I am convinced. Governments, however, get away with whatever they can, legal or not. It is the purpose and function of this House to stand up and point out when something is wrong. Perhaps the Minister of State might deal with that principle because he has not dealt with it so far.
I thought I had dealt with it. I said clearly that it is not a quantitative restriction and that is why there is provision for wheelchair accessible vehicles, WAVs. The National Transport Authority has facilitated and looked at different grant forms to provide more vehicles into the marketplace. We must get more vehicles like these into the marketplace and it should be the number one priority. I am not using that as an excuse either and I object to that type of language being used.
As Senator Barrett said, the criteria for such vehicles are onerous due to cost and higher specifications. The NTA is looking at those specifications to create a lower cost entry level for such vehicles. We must address the issue quickly and this mechanism goes some way towards that. It is something those who use such vehicles feel strongly about.
I am pressing the amendment because of the level of cynicism here where wheelchair users are being invoked for 1% of vehicles to keep new entrants from the other 99% of the market. That is wrong and contravenes what the High Court said. It stands economics on its head, it is devious and underhand and I could not possibly withdraw the amendment in those circumstances. The Minister of State invoked the National Transport Authority but the NTA is always opposed to competition, be it in the air, at airports or with buses. That is its track record and I am not surprised in the slightest it told the Minister of State to do this. It is where it is usually wrong in most economic issues.
I regret the authority has chosen this backdoor method of trying to reintroduce quantity licensing in the taxi business. It did not tell the Minister of State when they last met that waiting time reductions arising from the opening of the taxi market were worth ¤780 million in time savings each year. The measure also created 20,000 additional jobs which, based on IDA estimates, were worth ¤250 million as a once-off sum.
Government policy on the taxi market, which has been a major success, is being undermined, allegedly on the basis that the Minister of State and his officials care more for people in wheelchairs than Senators on this side do, which is nonsense. Why is the burden being placed on new entrants? The reason is the Minister of State was told by the incumbents and his officials to take this approach.
It is shameful and sets a bad precedent to deliberately flout decisions of the High Court. If the Minister of State does not like the court's decision, he can appeal it to the Supreme Court but he has chosen not to do so. When representatives of the taxi industry sought a judicial review the decision was upheld, which means the law that one cannot restrict entry to the taxi business under any guise stands. I am standing by that position in pressing the amendment.
- Sean Barrett
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- David Norris
- Trevor Ã“ Clochartaigh
- LabhrÃ¡s Ã“ MurchÃº
- Denis O'Donovan
- Averil Power
- Kathryn Reilly
- Ivana Bacik
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- Jimmy Harte
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- Lorraine Higgins
- CaÃt Keane
- John Kelly
- Marie Maloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- John Whelan
I want to draw the House's attention to subsection (3), which states: "The Minister may make an order specifying a date from which the Garda Síochána shall cease to be the licensing authority to grant licences to drive small public service vehicles for the purposes of this Act." To give the Minister his due and if I understand correctly, he does not intend to invoke this subsection yet. However, if the Government's case is that this industry has more than its share of criminality, a suggestion that I disputed when we last debated this Bill, I cannot think of a better set of people to deal with it than gardaí. I would be reluctant to remove this authority from the Garda to the National Transport Authority, NTA. If one is concerned about crime, gardaí are the people who know about it.
For this reason, I propose that the subsection should not be invoked. According to the record, the number of complaints has been decreasing and the level of criminality was seriously exaggerated by those making the case. There was an example of same last week. It is not an industry inhabited by social welfare frauds, tax dodgers or people with dodgy vehicles. In fact, it is a quite well behaved industry. In the speech given to the world conference on transport in Lisbon, Portugal, on 13 July 2010, Ms Kathleen Doyle, the previous regulator, pointed out that the number of prosecutions and complaints had been decreasing.
The Garda is doing a good job. The incumbents are trying to build up a head of steam behind the argument that new entrants will be illegal or, as we have heard, from the "wrong" country. This sector properly resides with An Garda Síochána. The evidence is that it has been doing a good job. The industry has often expressed its confidence in the Garda. In this regard, the Garda has helped the industry to grow from 4,000 or 5,000 vehicles to 27,000 vehicles without a significant increase in criminality. This is to the credit of the Garda Síochána. I ask the House to reconsider allowing the Minister to ever make an order to the effect that the Garda is no longer the licensing authority for this part of the economy. Gardaí know the people and will know whether fears about criminality are justified. I have confidence in them, for which reason section 6(3) should not proceed.
I support Senator Barrett. Will the Minister of State explain why the Garda will be withdrawn in this regard? My understanding is that the taxi industry supports the retention of the Garda in an enforcement role. Indeed, the Garda has been called upon a number of times, particularly in cities, to sort out difficulties on various taxi ranks.
The other aspect of this argument is that the current enforcement structure relies on only nine enforcement officers under the Taxi Regulator's office. Some 2,552 licences must be checked by each enforcement officer, not taking geographical locations into account. I see some merit in the taxi industry's preference for the Garda to resume ownership of the enforcement regulations, thereby providing an efficient service that would cut out illegal activity. I am sure that the Minister of State will have had the same experience as Senators. Throughout all of the discussions with taxi representatives, the mantra has been "Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement". This is the industry's main issue with the Bill.
Can the Minister of State lay before the House any evidence to the effect that the performance of the Garda as licensing authority is unsatisfactory? It might be a compelling argument in defence of his case, but I am unaware of such evidence.
The Garda, particularly its traffic section, is in constant contact with the taxi industry and other motorists. This supports the idea that it is an appropriate licensing body.
It is a natural and almost inevitable force within bureaucracies like the NTA to build a little empire for themselves. This measure smacks of empire building more than anything else. We have seen no evidence that the Garda's performance has been unsatisfactory in this regard. The Garda is most directly in contact with taxi drivers and the rest of the industry. I am convinced by Senator Barrett on this matter.
On Second Stage, I asked the Minister of State to consider employing more people in the regulatory authority to inspect taxi licences. We debated a Private Member's motion last Wednesday and, today, we voted on a Fianna Fáil amendment to the Order of Business regarding the Garda. Gardaí have more to do than checking or issuing taxi licences. In this smart age, the authority can get information from the Garda on someone's record when determining whether to licence that person. I ask Senator Barrett not to press the matter. We have debated the Garda enough. A better use of Garda time would be patrolling, overseeing road traffic and so on to ensure taxi drivers were not breaking the law under the Road Traffic Acts, not inspecting and issuing licences.
Before I call the Minister of State, I am sure that Members would like to join with me in welcoming a distinguished former Senator and Deputy Leader of the House, Mr. John Dardis, to the Visitors' Gallery.
I am sure that Members will also join with me in welcoming Dr. Catherine Woteki, Under Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA. She could not visit Ireland at a more opportune time. I wish her a happy stay for the next few days.
Section 6 is required to define a licensing authority for the purpose of the Bill. The section reflects the current situation, whereby the Garda has responsibility for small public service vehicle, SPSV, driver licensing. This section also allows for a future scenario whereby it is envisaged that the administration of the SPSV driver licensing functions will be transferred to the NTA in line with action No. 5 of the taxi regulatory review report of 2011, which I am sure that all of the Senators have read.
It is envisaged that the important vetting function will stay with the Garda. I take Senator O'Neill's comments concerning recent Seanad debates on board. I will set the scene. For months on end, I chaired a review committee, membership of which included the Garda. The Garda was a component of the decision making process as regards the transfer of functions. There is no issue concerning what the Garda has done historically, nor are we claiming such.
We are looking to the future to see where future resources can be best targeted as regards the administration process, which we believe is with the NTA, and enforcement in which the Garda will have a major part to play. There will be many qualitative enforcement measures which will support enforcement, and the Garda will have a huge role to play in that. That is the merit for the change being introduced in the legislation. I cannot accept the Senator's apparent view that the NTA should not have regulatory powers. The NTA is central to implementing the regulatory requirements and achieving the right balance between consumer interests and the interests of the industry.
I might add that, from an enforcement point of view, in conjunction with this legislation, I, as the Minister responsible, am working with the NTA and intend to bring in a large number of qualitative measures and improvements in on the street enforcement levels which I accept must be addressed.
I may take up the issue on Report Stage. I will ask the Garda and those in the industry how they feel about this but the history of regulation by the other bodies in the transport sector is highly discriminatory and unsatisfactory. The members of the Garda are the most trusted public servants in the country; all opinion polls show that. I will consider the issue for Report Stage but I do not see the case for removing the Garda from the sector. I will reserve my position until Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 6:
There are many paragraphs, extending to the letter M in subsection 2 and a number of subsections on what the NTA intends to do about licensing and so on. I want to call a halt to this direction because this is not to be the reintroduction of quantity licensing. We saw that in the case of the disabled. There was a court decision that we cannot have quantitative licensing in this sector. If we eventually add on that everybody who enters the industry must have two-page D categories in terms of taxi driving and so on, we will effectively keep new entrants out of the industry. I want an undertaking from the Minister of State that it is not his policy to reintroduce quantity licensing because that has been disallowed by the courts on at least four occasions. That is the purpose of my amendment. It is also a warning to the National Transport Authority not to go down that road because I believe its natural inclination is to do that, as it does in all the other sectors for which it has responsibility. It does not understand the way markets operate and I want to make sure that the opinion of this House is communicated to it in that we support the High Court decision that people are allowed to enter this sector. Some people may not want to use their services but they carry about 80 million passengers a year and are far more important to the public transport system than buses or trains. It is not up to a quango to make life more difficult for people who want to enter an industry which added 20,000 jobs since it was deregulated. I want to make sure of that because the natural inclination of bureaucracies is to end up with a situation where new entrants, vital for the efficiency of the sector, will effectively be banned by red tape.
In page 10, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following subsection:"(2) The Authority may not make regulations which reintroduce quantity licensing of small public service vehicles.".
I assume in my innocence that the Minister of State will accept this amendment. I base this on the fact that after a certain amount of obfuscation and prevarication he eventually came around, in response to our arguments about the superiority of judgments of the court and the impropriety that tended to overrule them by regulations, to say that this was a matter of qualitative rather than quantitative measures. That would lead one to conclude that he accepted that quantitative measures were wrong, imprudent and definitely illegal. I do not think he should have too much difficulty in absorbing this specific amendment. I look forward to his enthusiastic acclamation of Senator Barrett's amendment.
Unfortunately, I cannot. I will not be agreeing to the amendment. The matter of quantitative controls in the taxi market was already addressed in the courts, as we previously discussed, and the outcome was the liberalisation of the taxi market. The Bill does not provide for any quantitative restrictions on the taxi market in line with the view taken by the review group in the Taxi Regulation Review Report 2011, which I chaired, which recommends that the future approach to the regulation of the SPSV market should involve qualitative improvements to standards and the enforcement of the regulations.
When there are paragraphs extending to the letter M and a few subsections on this area and we are nearly running out of letters in the alphabet to cover measures, my fear is that the bureaucrats are attempting to re-regulate this sector by the backdoor. I am disappointed that the Minister of State cannot give an undertaking on that. I am sure this is one of the areas the troika is looking at because it is seriously concerned that the Government is building sheltered sectors in this economy which seriously infringe the ability of the rest of the economy to operate. That is why we are in our current state and unemployment has increased from 4.8% to 14.8%. The Minister of State feels unable to give any commitment that this will always be a competitive, contestable industry. That is all we ask him to do to give a commitment that neither he nor his officials or any of the lobby groups who were in and out of his Department have any intention reintroduce quantity licensing. I thought he would be glad to give that undertaking but regrettably he is not.
I am sure this will not end here. If there is a build-up of restrictive practices and all the sheltered sectors carry on like this and form clientless relationships with bureaucracies, it will damage the overall Irish economy. I cannot see why it is such a blow to the Minister of State to have to say that he is favour of the amendment I propose and that he has no intention of introducing quantity licensing. When we examine the situation, particularly in terms of the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009, many bogus reasons were given by the Department as to why it does not like competition. It is easy to disprove them but the Department remains committed to preventing competition and will invent the safety argument, one of its favourites.
I regret the Minister of State is unwilling to nail his colours to the mast, which economists would advocate and which the High Court has told him to do but the record will speak for itself. I am sure the IMF and the Competition Authority will note that we could not get an undertaking out of the Minister of State that he will not be influenced by the incumbents to introduce more and more regulations which will have the de facto effect of preventing new entrants who, as we said, are vital for the efficiency of any sector. Paragraphs (a) to (m) comprise the list he has today and yet he seeks powers to bring in more of them. They are anti-competitive measures. The consumer benefits of them are never evaluated. We know what were the consumer benefits of opening up the market, namely, ¤70 million to ¤80 million worth of time savings and ¤250 million worth in terms of 20,000 new jobs. They do not count in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I believe when the Goodbody report was discussed at the transport committee it was disputed. The report is based on the soundest of economics. This was a decision by the courts which was hugely beneficial to society and it is being steadily picked at in measures like the one we are opposing.
Once again I must strongly support Senator Barrett. He has dealt with the economic reasons and I will address myself to what I see as the political reasons. If these are not controlled it will not be only the Government that will introduce quantity licensing.
This is to try to prevent the authority, which lacks the weight or democratic impact of the Government, from making regulations that introduce quantity licensing.
The Minister of State said the Government will not introduce quantity licensing. He had made it clear that it is not Government policy. Nothing in Senator Barrett's amendment, therefore, comes into conflict with the stated policy the Minister of State has reiterated to the House. Senator Barrett's amendment merely restates a decision of the High Court, supported by the results of a judicial review and by what the Minister of State has told the House today is Government policy. I do not see there is any difficulty and I am at a loss to understand why the Minister of State cannot accept the amendment. Senator Barrett's position is clearly aligned with all of those elements and that makes for good government. I compliment him on producing the amendment.
I have very little to repeat, except to say there is no need for this in legislation. The market has been fully liberalised, as has already been stated. I can understand and appreciate the free marketeer approach. There must be a balance between a laissez-faire approach to regulation, where one believes that all forms of regulation are bad, and establishing a body that can ensure that standards of safety, service provision and everything else, are maintained. I do not get that sense of balance from Senator Barrett in many of his contributions today on the taxi industry. This industry needs to change fundamentally. I am a huge supporter of the taxi industry. Many people in it cannot make a living. They need to be supported with regard to standards and to have effective legislation behind that. While the free marketeer approach, with which Senator Barrett is very much in tune, is something I understand and appreciate, to go so far with a laissez-faire approach as not to require certain standards through regulation is something I cannot accept. Given the country's current environment, we should have learnt that lesson.
I am now completely confused. The Minister of State, having stalwartly maintained that the Government would not introduce quantity licensing, went off on a tangent about Senator Barrett's ideological views on laissez-faire economics and all the rest of it. If Senator Barrett has those views, I certainly do not share them. The Minister of State then appeared to be making an argument for quantity licensing, having said he recognised the fact it was illegal. I do not know what else he could have been doing except making that argument. The record of the House will show he was at least tending in that direction. I am left completely bemused.
When the Minister of State rejected the earlier amendment on SI 250 of 2010, which was using a qualitative argument to restrict new entrants by confining them to 1% of the market, he showed his true colours. We sought an undertaking that this would not happen again. The industry is now organised to keep new entrants out. In tabling this amendment, we sought an undertaking that would not happen. That is what the High Court intended. The Minister of State and his officials are here every day. Parliament is not here every day. That is why we sought this undertaking. We are not getting it, and I regret that.
The Minister of State's arguments have all been heard before. Are the people satisfied? They are. There were 377 complaints to the regulator, which is one tenth of the number of citizens who wrote to the Ombudsman complaining about public servants. As a percentage of 70 million or 80 million taxi journeys, that number is minuscule.
The Government has built up a problem which requires a response, allegedly on behalf of quality licensing. It will not be worth a hill of beans in the end. Bernard Feeney of Goodbody Economic Consultants looked at the issue of safety. The insurance rate for taxis, per vehicle mile, is the same as for other vehicles. The Aunt Sally arguments from the NTA about the need for regulation do not compare with the ¤780 million worth of time savings benefits and the ¤250 million worth of jobs created as a result of opening up the market. I wish official Ireland would accept that it has been a success and stop messing with it. That is all we ask in the amendment.
Sometimes we get economic policy right. I agree with the Minister of State that many of our economic policies are wrong. In fact, I wonder why some of the provisions against people operating taxis do not apply to bankers.
They did ¤64 billion worth of damage. Taxi drivers did ¤750 million a year worth of time savings and ¤250 million worth of job creation but are continually faced with bureaucrats meddling, as in paragraphs (a) to (m) of this section, and they will not even give the guarantee. The bureaucrats say they are on the side of the consumer. They are not setting out to ban new entrants, but that is what they are doing. Everyone in Irish economics knows that is what they are doing. The lawyers will know it, when they read the account of what is happening here today.
Amendment No. 7, to section 7, is to ensure vehicles or equipment under leasing arrangements are included in any regulations made by the NTA under subsection (2) which concerns restrictions on the rental of small public service vehicles, SPSVs. Similarly, amendment No. 10, which replaces subsection (6), prohibits the contravention of restrictions on rental and leasing arrangements for vehicles and equipment. A new subsection (7) provides for the offence in this regard. Amendments Nos. 44 and 47, to sections 30 and 31, respectively, are consequential on the offence under subsection (7), being a specified demerit offence for the purposes of Part 5.
What is the thinking behind the amendments? Might it have something to do with the fact that the industry itself has said there is a real problem of illegal taxi drivers? Representatives of the Taxi Alliance of Ireland to whom I have spoken estimate that as many as 5,000 illegal taxi drivers are operating in this jurisdiction. I understand some of these illegal drivers operate by using the vehicles of existing licenceholders. Are these amendments attempting to address this problem? It had been my intention to wait and speak on the section and cite the wider list of regulations. I wonder, however, if these amendments are an attempt to address the issue of illegal taxi drivers. Does the Minister have any views on this? Is this the thinking behind the amendments?
I share Senator Barrett's free market views in this regard and would not wish to be identified with any restriction on entry into the market, particularly when people are looking for jobs. Nevertheless, there must be regulation. The Minister of State himself mentioned the need for balance. If there is a real problem of illegal taxi drivers and if they are in such numbers, they will not be subject to normal taxi driver regulations on knowledge of where they are operating, for example, and all of the issues we talked about on Second Stage.
This takes us back to the view of the Taxi Alliance of Ireland on enforcement. I do not suggest that we should prevent people getting involved in the industry, but what about those who are currently in the industry and those who wish to enter the industry legitimately and conform with the regulations currently in place? It appears to me that the Government, in these amendments and in the section, is attempting to address the problem of illegal taxi drivers.
That is why I asked whether the Minister of State would clarify his reasons for tabling these amendments.
The amendments deal with the issues referred to by the Senator in the rental market. The market needs to change. Members will have watched the television programmes and read newspaper articles about the way in which the rental market developed willy nilly. A licence holder could rent out his or her plate and the person driving the car did not have to ensure standards were maintained. A full package will be put in place under the legislation for those operating in the rental market. There is a requirement for such a market for many different reasons but standards must be maintained by those renting vehicles under these provisions. For instance, they will not only rent out the car but they will be responsible for the insurance, signage and equipment in the car. That is the background to this and we want to ensure a standard is maintained into the future. Many of the organisations that made submissions to the review committee put this issue at the top of the agenda. This also drifts into the area of legal requirements.
Government amendment No. 8: In page 11, subsection (2), between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:?(m) in the case of an application by a company for a licence, the requirement to provide to the Authority details of any director, shadow director, manager, secretary, member entered in the register of the company, other officer or employee of the company, any person who has control of the company or any person purporting to act in that capacity;?
Taxi licences are held in company names and provision for the grant of further licences to companies is contained in section 9(7). All applicants for licences are required to meet the suitability requirements set out in section 10. Section 10(2)(e) contains specific measures relating to the suitability of members of companies. This technical amendment allows the NTA to make licensing regulations in the case of an application by a company to require that the company provides to the authority details concerning the membership, etc., of the company to ensure the suitability assessment under section 10 can be applied.
I move amendment No. 9:
The amendment seeks to delete sections 7(4)(b) and 7(4)(c). The authority in making regulations under these subsections may set different requirements on conditions for different circumstances and different areas of the State. The High Court applies in all areas of the State and it deregulated the sector. Why is the Government seeking different regulations in different areas of State? It is a unitary country and I cannot understand why one would wish to partition it again, as this section proposes. The High Court's jurisdiction operates in all 26 counties. Allowing a quango to decide what are the different circumstances is an attempt again to reintroduce quantity licensing through the back door and I have heard no case mentioned as to why that should be necessary. The reintroduction of area licensing would be utterly contradictory to a High Court decision, which has been shown to have generated ¤780 million in time saving benefits per annum by Goodbodys Economic Consultants and ¤250 million in job creation according to IDA estimates. I do not know why any State body should seek to undermine that by saying it wants different rules in different areas of the State.
In page 11, subsection (4), lines 37 and 38, to delete paragraphs (b) and (c)
When taxies were controlled by local authorities, we made it a national issue because some local authorities were stingier than others in allowing new entrants. According to the affidavits and the legislation arising from deregulation, the highest price for taxi licences were in Ennis where American tourists were brought to Shannon Airport and Killarney while Dublin prices were high as well. Why is the Minister of State returning to area licensing without even the slightest discussion of why we would wish to set aside a High Court decision in this regard yet again?
National regulations were decided upon and implemented by the Commission on Taxi Regulation. Area licensing could only be introduced on foot of a long discussion and not through a subsection such as this. I would take a great deal of convincing that there is a case for its reintroduction. It was abolished for good reasons, one of which was to ensure a greater supply of taxis in areas where local authorities had driven up the rental value of taxi plates. There will always be pressure from those who hold the licences to restrict entry, which would make the licences more valuable. Revisiting this under area licensing contradicts what the Minister of State has said throughout the debate. I do not know why this provision is included and I am trying to get it taken out. I look forward to what he has to say on the virtues, which seem to be small, of area licensing of the taxi sector.
I invite the Minister of State to enlighten the House as to what the nature of the different circumstances would entail under section 7(4)(b). That would help us to make up our minds on that. With regard to section 7(4)(c), what are the different areas of the State? Will it be province by province, county by county or city by city? What would be the intrinsic characteristics of those different areas to justify different treatment?
I cannot agree to amendment No. 9. It allows the NTA to make regulations setting different requirements and conditions relating to different categories and classes of vehicles, SPS drivers and licences as well as-----
I understand that. Section 7(4)(b) enables the NTA to make regulations, if needed, to address issues such as drivers operating in the voluntary sector or in other circumstances while section 7(4)(c) enables the authority to make regulations to address the area restrictions that currently exist in regard to standing or plying for hire. Some of the issues relate to making provisions to distinguish between taxi and hackney requirements, to deal with the voluntary sector and to address the proposal that emerged distinctively from the review committee to examine the provision of a rural hackney licence in the future. It has not come into play yet but it is being examined because there are no taxis in certain areas of the country. In some cases, there is no market but this provision makes it possible for us to consider whether we can provide for such a need in remote rural areas.
We could go through this county by county. First in an open market, if nobody in county X wants to get a taxi, it will not be supplied there. However, before we deregulated, the non-Dublin share of the taxi fleet was 35%. It then reduced to 32% but, by 2008, it had increased to 41%. The increase in taxi numbers outside Dublin, therefore, has been greater than elsewhere. I do not know what market failure is being addressed here. The market is open to enter unlike in other transport markets such as that for bus services which the Department restricts. We even have had verbal undertakings from the Minister of State that he would not impose quantitative restrictions on entry but now he is seeking the restoration of area licensing. I am not at all persuaded by the arguments.
That was abolished. Following its establishment in 2003, one of the first decisions of the Commission for Taxi Regulation was to introduce a system of national licensing which operated throughout the jurisdiction. I do not see the case that is being made here. I will oppose the Minister of State on that section.
I raised the issue previously, and I had a private word with Senator Sean D. Barrett, but we seem to be at variance on our figures. I do not for one moment dispute his figures. He showed me the source of the figures he has just put on the record but the source I have, which is the Taxi Alliance of Ireland, states that 74% of all taxi licences are in Dublin and if the cities of Galway, Cork and Limerick are included, this equates to 89% of all licences. The Taxi Alliance of Ireland makes the point that this is not a fair distribution for the other 16 counties and it goes some way to explaining why there is so much illegal taxi operation and also, as the Minister of State said, why there is not an adequate taxi service in areas of the country. There is some variance in the figures. I do not dispute those provided by Senator Sean D. Barrett but perhaps the Minister of State can clarify the issue.
In regard to Senator Sean D. Barrett's amendment, he should take the Minister's words in the spirit in which they were meant in respect of the different circumstances and for different areas of the State. He is trying to provide for regulation of the taxi industry, especially in remote areas, because the cost of a taxi licence and of putting a vehicle on the road will not be a viable proposition in certain parts of rural Ireland, whereas if the Minister of State under this regulation can give somebody a hackney licence to operate his or her own vehicle or a specially adapted vehicle, at least it gives rural areas a chance of being independent, thereby enabling especially elderly people to go to the shops, rural pubs or the church. He must accept the spirit of the Minister of State's opposition to the amendment. I ask the Senator to withdraw amendment No. 9, which seeks the deletion of paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (4). The Minister of State has stated the reasons these paragraphs are included in the Bill. While the matter can be discussed again on Report Stage, it is important not to have a vote on it now.
I thank my friend, Senator Pat O'Neill, for the proposal to debate it on Report Stage. The phrase "for different circumstances" is too wide. The Minister of State clarified the issue and I will support him if he wishes, but I do not know what a court case would make of "in different circumstances". Although I do not have photographic recall, the formulation of words provided by the Minister of State sounded better than what is set down in the Bill. Perhaps he might think of that on Report Stage. In respect of paragraph (c) for different areas of the State, that system was tried and failed. Suppose somebody makes a case to the Minister or the NTA that county X needs special consideration, and if the licence is granted for county X, it will cater for all the problems mentioned by Senator O'Neill. Before long, however, the holder of that licence will have a monopoly on it and it then becomes an obstacle to further progress. That is what happened from 1977 until 2000 and eventually the courts threw them out.
Rather than create local monopolies to solve a shortage of supply of transport in certain areas, I would prefer to have open competitive tendering rather than give somebody a licence and shut out everybody else. The reintroduction of area licences, on reflection, is something we would all agree did not work the last time. It is extremely bad to think of reintroducing it and it will create a value for the licence and piece of paper again. It provides an inferior service as all of the studies show when area licensing is introduced. That is why there was such a wave of public opinion through the judges and the courts; I sat in on some of the court cases. People got fed up because the monopolistic practices of the taxi industry led to an inferior service and restricted developments in other parts of the economy.
I do not know who in the Department has become converted back to different area licensing systems in different areas of the State, but I hope they reconsider. When a national licensing system is in place, people can move. The country is not very big, it is connected up by motorways and people can see a gap in the market and open up their business there. Why it should be part of the restrictive licensing system escapes me and it is contrary to our experience and the Minister of State's undertaking not to reintroduce quantity licensing. It contradicts the High Court judgments as well. This is a country where the entire industry was deregulated by two High Court decisions. One cannot differentiate in that way. To encourage supply one would probably have to go the subsidy route rather than the licensing route.