The number of taxi drivers in the Republic, which fell by nearly half after Ireland's crash a decade ago, increased last year for the first time in almost a decade, the National Transport Authority (NTA) has said.
New figures published by the NTA show that 26,373 individuals were licensed to drive small public service vehicles (SPSVs), including taxis and hackneys, last year – an annual increase of 3 per cent.
The NTA, concerned by the fall from 47,000 in 2009 to the recent low of 26,012 in 2017, launched a public campaign last year for new drivers and succeeded in attracting 1,168 drivers.
The applications were significantly up on 2017, when 823 applied for licences. “There was a concern over the reliability of services as some people were finding it difficult to get a taxi at certain times,” an NTA spokesperson told The Irish Times on Tuesday.
“We hope to continue to recruit members at this level so that the demand for services can continue to be met.”
However, the latest figures show that one in 10 of all licence holders at the end of last year were aged 70 years or older. Just 246 taxi drivers were under 30 years.
Last November, the NTA estimated that the annual running cost of operating a taxi in Ireland for new entrants to the industry could be over €26,000 per annum.
The NTA spokesperson said it published its findings in order to make potential new entrants aware of the costs and the likelihood of the need to apply for a wheelchair-accessible taxi licence.
Research showed a young inexperienced driver could face annual operating costs of €26,015 in contrast to about €14,550 for more experienced drivers with older vehicles.
The average taxi covers about 32,600km per annum, excluding driving for private use by the driver. Nearly two-thirds of applicants passed the two-part entry tests for a SPSV driving licence.
However, 40 per cent of successful candidates passed on their first attempt, but it took an average of 2.85 tests for the other successful candidates to achieve pass grades mark.
One hundred and five drivers formally surrendered their SPSV licences last year, while another 354 drivers allowed their licence to lapse permanently.
Meanwhile, the size of the taxi fleet increased, too, following years of falling numbers. The fleet grew substantially after liberalisation in 2000, but fell by a quarter from 27,429 in 2008 to 20,581 by 2017.
Last year, however, the trend was reversed, if only by 1 per cent to 20,753. The NTA particularly welcomed the large increase in wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs), which rose by 850 in 2014 to 2,115 by the end of 2018.
The increase has been spurred by grants worth up to €7,500 per vehicle. More than 700 grants worth almost €3.4 million were awarded for 679 new WAVs, and the replacement of 82 older licensed taxis.
However, one in seven of all taxis are more than a decade old. Under the rules, taxis are supposed to be less than 10 years old, bar those covered by a transition arrangement permitted to stay in service until they are 15 years old. The majority of taxi licence holders (55 per cent) operate in Dublin.
Over 190,000 mobile checks were carried out on taxi and hackneys last year with inspections on 93 per cent of all licensed vehicles which resulted in a total of 1,878 fines being issued.
A third of all fines related to the failure of drivers to comply with the legal requirement to register the vehicle being driven with a central database managed by the NTA.
It contains information displayed in the Driver Check App which allows passengers and intending passengers to check the licence status of their driver and vehicle and to email a third person with the same details.
Two hundred and twelve prosecutions started last year, including 158 cases of drivers not holding a valid driver and/or vehicle licence and 19 for the illegal display of a taxi sign.
Two drivers were prosecuted for failing to take the shortest route and one for charging over the metered fare. More than 90 per cent of all cases were successful, according to the NTA.
The number of complaints grew by 14.5 per cent to 1,312 – 529 were lodged over the condition, roadworthiness or cleanliness of the vehicle; 470 over problems with the hiring and booking of vehicles, and 261 for complaints about fares, including overcharging.