500 taxi drivers decide to sue over reforms

 

Up to 500 taxi-drivers are expected to have lodged compensation claims against the Government by the new year, over its decision to deregulate the industry.

The taxi drivers, who bought their licences before the industry was liberalised in November 2000, are taking their cases through a Limerick-based firm of solicitors, McMahon O'Brien Downes.

Between 300 and 400 taxi-drivers have already signed up with the firm and, according to the National Taxi Drivers' Union (NTDU), their cases are due to come before the courts before next summer.

"3,900 taxi-drivers were adversely affected by deregulation; we expect to have more than 500 cases taken out of this number," Mr Vinne Kearns of the NTDU said.

The drivers are taking their cases on an individual basis, however. They were alerted to the possibility of taking a case through a questionnaire sent out by the union in the last few months. Mr Kearns has encouraged all drivers who lost out due to deregulation to contact the Limerick firm.

The claims are likely to be based partly on the grounds that the State treated the licence plate as an asset, subject to a similar range of taxes as property, and that the new licences were sold at too low a price.

"The State had a number of different options in dealing with the deregulation, but it chose the one that really hit drivers and families hard," Mr Kearns said. "The State recognised the value of the plate and they could have sold the new licenses at a more reasonable price, but it sold them off at next to nothing."

If the drivers' cases are successful, they could cost the State far in excess the €15 million hardship fund established by the Minister for Transport, Mr Seamus Brennan.

Mr Kearns has rejected the hardship fund, calling it "outrageous" and "an insult".

"The Government can scrap that fund for what it is. It's an insult to a widow who was making a £150 a week from a plate and was keeping herself and was not a burden on the State and who now has to rely on social welfare. It makes no sense at all."

Mr Kearns said that despite the current boom in the taxi business due to the Christmas rush, many of the union's members intended to leave the job in the new year.

"Anyone with a trade is getting out," he said.