Taxi drivers promise to protest again next week

 

ABOUT 1,000 taxi drivers, who drove in a convoy from Dublin’s suburbs to the city centre yesterday to demand restrictions on new entrants to the industry, have promised to protest in Trim, Co Meath, next Wednesday.

The drivers, members of the Taxi Drivers for Change movement, said they chose Trim because it is the constituency base of Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, whom they accused of ignoring their plight.

The drivers, who caused severe disruption in the centre of Dublin while their protest was under way, claimed typical working days of up to 16 hours could earn just €50.

They ascribed the drop in earnings in part to the recession, but principally to the dramatic rise in taxi numbers since deregulation.

Taxi Drivers for Change committee member Roy Reeder called on taxi regulator Kathleen Doyle to immediately publish a Goodbody Consultants’ report on the state of the industry, which he said would reveal the hardship faced by many drivers.

“If she had published the report there might not have been any protest today,” he said.

Mr Reeder (36) said he had cancelled his wedding in Lanzarote, planned for August, because he could no longer afford it.

A taxi driver for six years, he had an eight-year-old son to support, but that wages of about €70 for a 12-hour shift – “out of which €20 for diesel must be paid” – were common.

He said that the industry needed regulation “on standards and on numbers of taxis which are now higher than in New York”.

Another driver, Ray Wheeler from Swords, said he could not blame “a man who buys a taxi plate with his redundancy, but he is one less customer for us and one more taxi driver looking for business”.

Mr Wheeler, who is based in north Dublin, said that the decline in earnings coincided with the recession in the building industry “about nine months ago”.

“People stopped going out. You used to see people going out mid-week, Monday to Thursday. Now you are waiting two hours in a rank at the weekend for a €6 fare,” he said.

Commenting on the protests, he said: “We are not going to go away until somebody admits there is a problem with the industry.”

Ed Lynch (59) from Cork said that the situation was the same in the regions outside Dublin, with earnings falling rapidly.

As the crowd of drivers waited, some from shortly before 1pm until 3.30pm for colleagues to arrive, there was light-hearted interaction between the gardaí present and the taxi drivers.

“If you see a helicopter overhead, make sure the door doesn’t fall off,” said committee member Jim Waldron, referring to the Garda helicopter.

When the speeches started at 3.30pm, committee member Brendan Byrne maintained that “600 cars had come from Liffey Valley, 600 from northside and three to four hundred from southside.”

Gardaí said that the protesters had kept to agreed arrangements. However they said that the number of cars, while substantial at up to 1,000, was fewer than that claimed by drivers.