Thousands of taxi drivers could be forced off the road in the new year if pressing issues affecting the industry are not addressed, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Members of representative associations of taxi drivers told the Transport Committee that the ’10-year rule’, which says taxis must be 10 years old or younger, is a ‘major concern’ for drivers who need to change cars given the high cost of second-hand cars and the difficulty of obtaining electric cars under a proposed subsidy scheme.
The committee heard a call for taxis to be included in transport plans for major events, with taxi drivers not permitted beyond a Garda cordon to transport people to and from concerts in Garth Brooks Croke Park, leaving spectators with a 25 minute walk to get a taxi instead.
Taxi drivers also spoke out forcefully about what they described as a lack of commitment on the part of the National Transport Authority (NTA) and the difficulty in retaining drivers, given that more than 2,000 left the industry during the pandemic.
David McGuinness, president of Tíomanái Tascaí na hÉireann, said: “The most worrying thing about this is that few of them have returned. This is an indication of a lack of confidence in the industry.
Mr McGuinness said many of those who had left the industry had worked there for decades but did not return due to the high costs associated with running a taxi.
Given the 10-year rule, it’s estimated that just under 4,000 drivers will need to upgrade to a newer car in 2023.
“A message of ‘don’t worry, you’ll be fine’ from the NTA is not the answer,” Mr McGuinness said.
Jim Waldron of the National Private Hire Taxi Association said ‘a bigger fear’ would be that taxi drivers would have to borrow more and take on more debt to ensure they can stay on the road and work even longer to pay for it.
“It will put their own lives and those of the passengers at risk,” he said. “People don’t have the option of moving from a taxi to another job. It is the health and well-being of our passengers that concerns us. »
Philip Egan, from the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation, was one of those who raised the issues with the transfer of licenses.
Under current legislation, the transfer of a small public service vehicle (SPSV) license is prohibited, except where the license holder is deceased and has appointed a person to take over the licence.
“My 89-year-old father has to die for this license to be transferred,” he said. “It’s a license that’s there. It’s illogical. There are many solutions to these problems that we need to consider.
The committee has also heard of a shortage of electric cars available for purchase, although taxi drivers are keen to take up the offer of a subsidy scheme. He also heard concerns about the safety of drivers working at night and how allowing the Uber app to take hold in Ireland in the same way as in other countries would “decimate” the taxi industry.
All the representatives criticized the NTA and dismissed the role played by the Taxi Advisory Committee as that of a “talking shop” that does not address the issues they raise.
Mr Egan added: ‘It’s crazy. If you were in the back of my cab and I told you what’s going on, you’d actually think I was smoking some kind of crack.
The NTA is due to address the transport committee next week to face questions over the issues.