Taxi review to follow over 40% drop in licensed drivers

NTA says review is to ensure legitimate and competent operators are rewarded fairly

Christy Humphrey of the National Private Hire and Taxi Association accused the regulator of “trying to do away with the knowledge test”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Christy Humphrey of the National Private Hire and Taxi Association accused the regulator of “trying to do away with the knowledge test”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The National Transport Authority has launched a review of its “knowledge test” and other requirements for taxi drivers following a fall of more than 40 per cent in the number of licensed drivers in recent years.

The knowledge test follows a compulsory training course and examines industry regulation and knowledge of the geographical area the licence will cover.

Since it was introduced in 2009, numbers of active drivers fell each year from a high of 47,529 to just over 27,000 in December 2015 – a fall of more than 40 per cent.

The introduction of the test, which also applies to drivers’ licences for hackneys and limousines, coincided with a rise in driving licence application fees from €12 to €250 and a rise in renewal fees from €3 to €250. The authority also decided that from 2010 all future licence applications should only be approved for wheelchair accessible vehicles.

The authority has now decided “a review of the driver licensing framework together with associated testing, training and monitoring of drivers in place since 2009 is appropriate at this time”.

Public consultation on the review is already under way and a public questionnaire and discussion document outlining the issues are available on the National Transport Authority website at nationaltransport.ie.

Difficulties

In its assessment of the factors which may impede drivers staying in the business, the discussion document said the State maintained “a county boundary zoning system” for taxi drivers. This meant drivers had to do separate tests for each county in which they wanted to pick up casual fares.

Another difficulty was encountered in larger counties where “a driver living and operating in one extreme of the county may never need to travel to the other extreme” but would need to know its geography, the discussion document said.

The assessment also considered the age profile of drivers and noted that 61 per cent were aged over 50, while just one per cent were under 30.

The document particularly instanced 2015, in which 519 new licences were issued and 122 licences formally surrendered, while 1,985 were allowed to lapse permanently.

The authority said the aim of the review was to allow consumers and the sector itself to have confidence in the suitability of the system for driver licensing and to ensure legitimate and competent operators were rewarded fairly.

High charges

However, Christy Humphrey of the National Private Hire and Taxi Association, which claims to have 5,000 members, accused the regulator of “trying to do away with the knowledge test”.

Mr Humphrey said the impetus for the review had come from unnamed taxi companies who were finding it difficult to get drivers to accept what he claimed were high charges for radio usage and referrals.

Mr Humphrey said a driver would have to pay up to €130 a week for a radio connected to a major taxi “dispatcher”, and many long-term drivers were not prepared to pay that.

However he said new entrants to the business, many of whom were migrants, would work under those conditions. “Without being racist”, he said there were issues with lowering the knowledge standards, and allowing drivers to use GPS systems instead.

The NTA has raised a host of questions as part of the public consultation exercise, such as whether those applying to be taxi drivers here should undergo a medical or English language test, or adhere to a certain dress code when driving taxis. Submissions should be made by November 30th.