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A rank situation?

The taxi man anger in Galway

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A scarcity of taxis is a disaster for a city’s occupants. Especially for a city as wet and often miserable as Galway. At night it leads to queues, long waits, and when you add that to alcohol, fights.

The deregulation of the nation’s taxi service was meant to put an end to that. But at the time drivers voiced their concerns that the streets would be overrun by taxis.

In Galway, it would seem, they were right. It’s Christmas week, and despite the recession, business is brisk.

Yet one of Galway’s busiest streets is a car park. And has been for quite some time. Trying to drive through Eyre Square is a nightmare. The taxi rank at the Square’s top simply cannot cope with the number of vehicles vying for its limited space.

Figures released last week show that 446 people applied for taxi licences in Galway in 2008. So far 401 have been granted, and 45 are being processed. In 2007 378 were issued.

Galway’s drivers simply feel there are too many drivers on the streets. This has predictably led to anger.

Compared to this city’s list of ills, many will feel that this problem is rather minor but is a symptom of the malaise biting at the taxi industry in both Galway and throughout the country.

Galway’s drivers simply feel there are too many drivers on the streets.

Last week Frank Fahey invited the taxi drivers to Dublin to speak of their concerns to the Oireachtas Transport Committee of insufficient infrastructure, but primarily about the number of licences being issued. Deputy Fahey himself made a recommendation that a three year moratorium should be introduced on the issuing of taxi licences.

In a statement last week he said, “I have asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin TD, to put a stop to people who are trying to get into the taxi business being approved on this scheme.

“To ensure that these problems are addressed, I’ve made a recommendation to the Taxi Regulator that a three year moratorium be introduced for the issue of taxi licences pending the introduction and implementation of proper standards.”

But Galway’s taxi drivers are not relying on the politicians. Last month the city’s largest taxi firms came together to set up the Galway Taxi Association. The organisation now represents 61.5 per cent of the city’s taxis.

This organisation went to Dublin last week on the invitation of Deputy Fahey where they managed to deliver a letter to Kathleen Doyle, the Taxi Regulator.

The letter seen by Galway First is very angry is tone, claiming that drivers simply have no confidence in Ms Doyle.

The organisation claims that the business in Galway is heading for chaos because of an over-supply of taxis; drivers working excessive hours in other to make a meagre wage; and the total lack of provision of rank spaces in trading areas causing the industry to come into conflict with the gardaí.

The letter adds, “Kathleen you have inherited a difficult brief. The cost of running the regulators office is financed through the sales and renewal of licences. How can your office have an objective view of the ‘best interests’ of the SPSV industry?”

This is the crux. Galway’s taxi drivers now believe that the Regulator has a vested interest in not backing this moratorium both they and Deputy Fahey are calling for.

Galway First contacted the Taxi Regulator’s offices last week to obtain a response to the Galway drivers’ claim.

 We have decided to print the response in full: “The issue of a moratorium on issuing new taxi licences is a matter for the Minister for Transport and the Oireachtas.

“The Taxi Regulator is an industry regulator not a market regulator; this means that the regulator has powers in relation to minimum standards, maximum fares, enforcement of contraventions and so on but does not have power to regulate the market in terms of numbers of participants or regional distribution of participants. It is a policy matter for the Minister and the Oireachtas, as elected representatives, if they wish to amend the primary legislation to change the regulator’s role in this regard.

Drivers simply have no confidence in Ms Doyle.

“The Regulator has no vested interest regarding a moratorium. The regulator’s budgets are not based on any growth targets within the industry, rather they are based on activities required for the coming year and the need to resource them. The commission is in no way dependent on any increase in taxi numbers to sustain its activities into the future. Indeed, there already exists strong empirical evidence to suggest that the number of new applicants for licences is falling quite sharply.

 ”The best interests of the SPSV industry are served by maintaining a level playing field for all participants in terms of quality of service and fare structure and level. It is the primary function of the regulator to ensure that a fair balance is struck between industry and consumer needs.”

 It continues, “The regulator has commissioned an economic review of the industry to establish such patterns as earning levels, etc. This report is not yet available and the regulator has indicated that it would be premature to express an opinion on the issue of the possible re-introduction of a restriction on licence numbers.  The Competition Authority, on the other hand, gave evidence before the Joint Committee on Transport confirming its clear opposition to any such proposal.

“The Regulator would like to see Local Authorities work closely with the Gardaí and the industry in the provision of taxi ranks. Road space demand tends to be at its lowest when demand for taxis is at its highest. Therefore, there may be significant opportunities to relocate loading bays or sections of bus lanes to taxis at certain hours of the evening or night. It is the Regulator’s belief that co-operation between the industry and the other stakeholders involved in the provision of public transport services is the best way to resolve these issues in each local area.”

 Such a statement won’t placate our cabbies though. The drive is on for Galway’s cabbies. On January 24 the 600 or so drivers represented by the Galway Taxi Association will take to the streets of the city to march.

This issue is not going away.


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