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'We're in the midst of a crisis': Dublin revellers warned of taxi shortage over bank holiday

REVELLERS IN DUBLIN’S city centre over the bank holiday weekend can expect a long wait for transport home at the end of their nights out, as the taxi shortage in the capital continues.

There has been a drop-off in active taxi drivers since the pandemic and the industry has failed to recover following the lifting of restrictions. According to the National Transport Authority, currently there are 25,336 taxi driver licences, 18,849 of which are active.

An NTA survey this year found that 93% of licensed taxi drivers are now working, but only 29% work during the busy period of Friday and Saturday nights.

This week a number of readers shared their experiences of trying to get home after nights out socialising in the city centre, with some stating they waited hours for a taxi, while others decided to just walk home. Some said they had tried to use the public transport options that were available, but these too were full to capacity. 

It has, some readers said, turned them off socialising in the city centre unless they have a lift home lined up.

Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke raised the issue with the Minister for Transport recently. Speaking to The Journal, he said he “continues to be concerned about the crisis in the taxi industry”, particularly as we head into a busy bank holiday weekend.

“There is not supply to meet demand at particular times like the weekends, but there at other times when there is ample supply, so that’s something that needs to be looked at,” he said.  “We have a situation where, due to the cost of living increases and fuel price increases taxi drivers are struggling to get by and to make ends meet. 

“That points to a dysfunction in the market and we’re in the midst of a crisis now that has the real potential to get significantly worse.”

David McGuinness, chairperson of the taxi driver representative organisation Tiomanai Tacsai Na hEireann (TTnH), told The Journal that people who are planning to socialise in the city centre should be prepared for transport challenges. 

“There won’t be enough Luas or buses and unfortunately the taxi industry will be expected to pick up the flack – and the bad publicity – because there’s no other form of transport for people,” he said. 

Dublin Bus has said a full Nitelink service will operate on Friday and Saturday nights, but there will be no Nitelink service on Sunday, which is expected to be another busy night in the city.

Taxi driver representative organisations have called for a number of measures to address the shortage of night-time transportation from the city centre at weekends. McGuinness said the government and National Transport Authority (NTA) have to take responsibility for the issue as drivers feel as though the blame for the shortage has fallen on them.

“Drivers do feel blamed – every Monday or Tuesday after a busy weekend it seems like there are radio shows about how bad the taxi service is, how there aren’t enough of them, but there are 9,000 taxis in Dublin.

“We went to them with ideas, we warned them this would happen and it’s up to them now to come up with some kind of progressive ideas,” he said.

“They need to do something to attract young people into the industry because at the moment it’s not seen as a longterm option that people can set out a ten or 15-year career for themselves in.”

He said an easier transfer of taxi licences between family members should be facilitated again to encourage a passing-down of the job within families.

An adequate premium rate for weekend evenings may also attract drivers back into the city centre during those peak times, he said. 

The NTA has proposed a 12.5% overall fare increase as part of the current ongoing review of the Maximum Fares Order. This would include a premium rate during these peak times, but representative organisations have said this overall fare hike does not go far enough, particularly when rising fuel prices and the cost of living crisis are taken into account. 

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The Department of Transport has pointed to a number of supports put in place during the pandemic such as an increase in the maximum vehicle age and a measure to allow licence holders to be inactive for 24 months so they could remain attached to the industry with no associated costs. 

The department said the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles [taxis] continues to meet on a monthly basis and that the NTA, which is the independent regulator of the sector, “has been in constant contact with operators, drivers and representatives throughout the pandemic via email, text messages and phone calls”.

McGuinness, a former member of this advisory committee, said the taxi representative organisations no longer engage with the committee. 

“We proposed changes to try make committee work better, those proposals were all just refused, there was no point in taking part in the committee,” he said.

In response to a recent question in the Dáil from Sinn Féin’s Darren O’Rourke, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said he disagreed with a proposal from the deputy to offer more flexibility on the ten-year rule for the age of vehicles in the fleet to ease the financial burden on drivers. 

“If we continue to increase the age of the fleet of the taxi industry, it will become an issue for customers and the quality of the industry at a certain point. It is now time to go back to the ten-year rule,” the Minister said. 

He acknowledged the loss of around 2,000 taxi plates but said there was “a strange mix of realities” in the industry.

“On the one hand, taxis are not very busy in some areas. On other occasions, people are flat out and it is difficult for customers to get taxis,” he said.

“We will work with the taxi regulator on an ongoing basis to make sure we get the best service and correct number of taxi drivers. If there needs to be more taxis on our streets, that might be one of the solutions.”