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'We've been thrown to the lions': Taxi drivers could be off the road for weeks due to NCT delays

Some drivers can’t get NCT appointments before their taxi licence expires.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Lloyd Carr

TAXI DRIVERS COULD be unable to work for weeks as they cannot secure an NCT appointment before their taxi licence needs to be renewed.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, drivers who had to renew their Small Public Service Vehicle (SSPV) licences between 13 March and 12 June had their licences’ validity extended for free by the National Transport Authority (NTA) for a period of three months.

The validity of NCT discs was extended for four months due to the crisis.

However, some taxi drivers whose licences expire this month are struggling to get an National Car Test (NCT) appointment due to a backlog.

Almost 85,000 NCT appointments were cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the system was already dealing with delays after the use of lifts at NCT centres was temporarily suspended, due to repair issues, on 29 January.

The phased reopening of the NCT and SPSV vehicle inspection centres commenced on 8 June.

The National Private Hire and Taxi Association (NPHTA) has called for the extension period to be updated to include drivers who need to renew their licence in the coming weeks.

NPHTA spokesperson Jim Waldron told TheJournal.ie that several drivers have raised the issue with the association, stating: “It’s a major problem at the moment.”

He noted that when a driver gets their NCT done, they often have to retest the car at a later date, and then wait at least 48 hours for a suitability test to be carried out.

“You do your NCT, and you can’t do your suitability test until 48 hours after that, if you can get an appointment. You can’t make an appointment until you do your NCT so it means that [a driver] obviously can’t go back to work because he can’t get his car licence,” Waldron said.

He added that “lucky” drivers may only be out of work for a week, but others may be off the road for a few weeks.

“A lot of drivers are staying on the Covid payment and they’re not kicking off about the suitability [test] and the NCT because they’re on the Covid payment at the moment. But I think they’ll realise that they run into problems when they go back to licence their vehicle,” Waldron said.

He added that some drivers have been unable to reach the NTA via its helpline or have been kept on hold for up to 90 minutes.

Waldron wants certain NCT test centres to be dedicated to taxis until the backlog is cleared, saying drivers “shouldn’t be put in the queue with everybody else” as they rely on their vehicle for work.  

‘Thrown to the lions’

One taxi driver whose licence is due to expire on 30 June was told on 9 June told the earliest appointment he could get is on 7 July. Jeffrey Cronin had hoped to go back to work on 29 June, when Phase Three of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions kick in, but will now be off the road until next month.

Cronin, who is based in Dublin, said he made the decision to stop working in mid-March in a bid to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 as his wife works for the HSE and was carrying out testing for the virus.

“So we had to make the decision, we couldn’t afford for two of us to end up with the disease. I took time off, I was here with the kids.”

He has been receiving the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment while unable to work, but now needs and wants to get back on the road.

Cronin has been a taxi driver for over 20 years and said he would typically have three months to renew his licence, noting the process generally takes weeks.

“You do your NCT, then you might have a retest on that, repairs or whatever, so that’s probably another week. Then you’re going through your suitability [test] … it’s always a week [to get an appointment] so realistically, you’re probably looking at three weeks over, off the road.”

Cronin said, in his experience, it’s “very rare” to not need a re-test on a vehicle.

“I know that this can’t be done in the space of three days. They’ll say, ‘Oh just get your NCT done and we’ll give you an immediate appointment for the suitability [test]‘. I know it doesn’t work that way because there’s always a problem with it.”

Cronin contacted the NTA and was informed that the extension period for licence validity was not being extended beyond last Friday, 12 June. He said it’s unfair that one set of drivers are “being looked after and the other set aren’t”.

“It means I can’t go back to work, I had planned on going back to work on the 29th [of June]. I presumed what they did for everybody else was just going to be knocked on and we’d all be in the same position, so you’d have three months’ extension or whatever until the backlog was cleared.

But now the backlog hasn’t been cleared and we’re just being thrown to the lions.

Cronin called on the NTA to update the previous extension “for a month or two months, it doesn’t necessarily have to be three months” so he and others can get appointments and go back to work or keep working.

“Why should I be off the road or unable to go back to work?,” he asked. He feels as though taxi drivers have been forgotten about while efforts have been made to get employees in other sectors back to work as Covid-19 restrictions ease.

“As far as I can see, there’s a minister on the radio or on the TV every evening throwing money at it, saying ‘Oh, we’ll have this open and we’ll have that open’. Here I am, want to go back to work, want to get back on the road, and I can’t get back to work until I get this sorted,” Cronin told us.

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‘Abnormally high volume of calls’

A spokesperson for the NTA confirmed to TheJournal.ie that there are no plans to defer the expiry date of additional licences, beyond the original date range (13 March to 12 June).

The spokesperson said there is “currently no delay to SPSV operators obtaining an inspection for an SPSV licence renewal once they have obtained a valid NCT certificate”.

“We are aware that in the first phase of NCT centre reopening, there has been an increase in waiting times for NCT tests. Where an SPSV licence is due to expire licence holders are advised to contact the priority SPSV NCT Booking Line – 01 413 5960 for appointments.”

They noted that any SPSV vehicle licence holder who is unable to complete a licence renewal directly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, “will not be subject to any late renewal fee”.

“This NCT issue is considered a direct Covid-19 cause and licence holders will not be penalised with fees for late renewal caused by a delay in NCT certificate availability.”

The spokesperson added that NTA’s SPSV information and booking line is “experiencing abnormally high volumes on foot of the reopening of the test and inspection centres”.

“The very high level of calls being made by SPSV operators are causing waiting times in excess of 30 minutes. We have asked operators to email their query to taxis@nationaltransport.ie if at all possible. The response time is likely to be faster by email,” they added.

Drivers who suspended their insurance during the pandemic have been advised to email suspension@nationaltransport.ie “to arrange a reapplication of the tamperproof licence discs for their vehicles”.

“Unfortunately, many drivers are not using the channels of information put in place to answer their queries and this is adding to the level of call volumes being experienced,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the Road Safety Authority, which oversees the NCT, told TheJournal.ie that priority for appointments is “currently being given to taxis and vehicles with a test due date prior to 28 March that were not granted the four-month extension”.

Fifteen NCTS centres reopened on 8 June: Cork – Little Island; Cork – Blarney; Northpoint 1 and 2, Dublin; Deansgrange, Dublin; Fonthill, Dublin; Galway; Limerick; Waterford; Letterkenny; Athlone; Ballina; Naas; Drogheda and Derrybeg. These centres are mainly the larger NCT centres in areas of higher population.

The spokesperson noted that additional centres will be reopening towards end of June and throughout July, advising people to check the NCTS website for further information and updates.

“The reopening of the remaining centres is subject to the government’s approval of Phase Three of the Road Map to ease Covid-19 restrictions,” they added.

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Órla Ryan

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