A Government TD has called for a State investigation after taxi app Free Now missed yet another driver payment deadline – its fourth in two weeks – leaving up to 14,000 taxi drivers unpaid for fares, with the cash owed to some full-time drivers estimated at up to €1,000 each.
Cormac Devlin, a Fianna Fáil TD for Dún Laoghaire, on Monday wrote to Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Transport, asking him to direct the National Transport Authority, which regulates the taxi industry, to become involved in the issue.
“The company has missed several deadlines leaving thousands of taxi drivers uncertain about when they will be paid,” Mr Devlin wrote to the Minister.
“Ultimately new legislation may be required to ensure companies with the market share of Free Now have adequate liquidity and are properly bonded to ensure drivers’ funds are secure.”
Free Now has blamed delays at its payments processor, Germany-headquartered Wirecard Bank, for the problem and said it is switching to another payments processor, believed to be Commerzbank, to try to avoid further delays. Wirecard Bank is part of the Wirecard group that shocked German regulators this summer when it entered insolvency with a €1.9 billion hole in its accounts. The Free Now group is owned by leading German car marques Daimler and BMW.
Problems first arose at the Irish arm of Free Now, previously known as MyTaxi and before that as Hailo, the week before last when it missed its first Wednesday payment deadline. Customers can pay for taxis with credit or debit cards through the app and the money is forwarded on to drivers each week in one payment, minus a commission for Free Now of about 15 per cent. Free Now subsequently paid drivers on the Friday of that week, two days late.
We are working hard to ensure drivers are paid as soon as possible, we appreciate that this delay is unacceptable and that is why we are doing everything we can to resolve this
Last week, the company missed yet another Wednesday deadline and promised to, again, pay drivers on the Friday. After that deadline was also missed, taxi drivers began to express their concerns publicly and Free Now blamed its payments processor – now known to be Wirecard – and said the payments would be made “over the weekend”.
After taxi drivers were, yet again, not paid on Monday, Free Now said it was trying to resolve the issue and said drivers would be paid “as soon as possible”. It is understood that Commerzbank has been lined up to conduct this week’s regular weekly payment, which for many taxi drivers reliant on the app is equivalent to almost their entire week’s wages.
“We are working hard to ensure drivers are paid as soon as possible, we appreciate that this delay is unacceptable and that is why we are doing everything we can to resolve this,” Free Now said in response to queries from The Irish Times.
Drivers were sent messages from Free Now on Monday apologising for the failure to pay them, and promising to run this week’s payments a day early to make up for it.