Wednesday, 19 May 2021
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
74. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the supports he now plans to implement to specifically aid taxi drivers in the coming period to overcome the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on their earnings and to enable them to restart their businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26722/21]
I recognise that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on small businesses across the country with the public transport sector being especially affected as public health restrictions have necessarily discouraged people from travelling generally. Taxi and other small public service vehicle (SPSV) operators, who are particularly dependent on the hospitality and tourism sectors, have faced a particularly pronounced drop in demand for their services. This has led many drivers to stop working and avail of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).
The Deputy may wish to be aware that self-employed recipients of the PUP, which includes many SPSV drivers, can earn up to €960, net of expenses, in a given 8-week period while also availing of the PUP. As society begins to reopen and passenger demand for taxis increases, this will become an important support for drivers as they return to work. Drivers who earn over €960 may be eligible for the COVID-19 Part Time Job Incentive for the Self-Employed Scheme, administered by the Department of Social Protection.
Drivers exiting the PUP may also avail of the COVID-19 Enterprise Support Grant, a once-off grant of up to €1,000 which can be used towards the costs associated with reopening a business; for SPSV operators, this could include personal protective equipment, vehicle costs and cleaning supplies.
I understand that public consultation has recently closed on an NTA proposal to further extend vehicle age limits, the third since the start of the pandemic. The replacement of a vehicle is one of the largest costs to any SPSV operator. This measure would ensure no taxi or hackney reaches its age limit during 2021 and I support this proposal.
Together these measures provide practical financial support for drivers and build on previous measures, such as late fee waivers, the facilitation of licence suspensions and the waiver of standard vehicle renewal fees at an estimated cost of €2.6 million.
I remain committed to supporting the transition of the SPSV fleet towards zero/low-emission vehicles and I have increased the funding available to the Electric SPSV (eSPSV) grant scheme from €1 million in 2020 to €15 million in 2021. Furthermore, in view of the particular challenges faced by operators of older vehicles, I have doubled the amount payable under the scheme to €20,000 for operators who scrap older vehicles and make the switch to full electric models. Additional amounts are available for those switching to vehicles which are both electric and wheelchair accessible. There has been a strong interest in the revised scheme since its launch in February with over 400 applications received to date.