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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 0°C
taxi protest

'Killing an industry that's already dead': Taxi drivers stage protest in Dublin city

Drivers have called on the government to introduce a range of measures to support the industry as they deal with the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

TAXI DRIVERS HAVE called on the government to introduce a range of measures to support the industry as they deal with the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Up to 1,500 taxi drivers are staging a protest in Dublin city today, saying their livelihoods are at risk.

The demonstration has been organised by the sectors’ four main unions, which represent tens of thousands of drivers across the country.

It started at Phoenix Park before making its way to Government Buildings. TDs will later discuss supports for taxi drivers in the Dáil.

coronavirus-tue-sep-15-2020 Niall Carson / PA Wire/PA Images Taxi drivers say 22,000 jobs are at risk. Niall Carson / PA Wire/PA Images / PA Wire/PA Images

Many taxi drivers were off the road for months during the pandemic and those who are back at work say business is only about 20% of what it would typically be.

They believe the taxi industry has been largely ignored while other sectors have received support from the government, adding that high insurance costs and plans to ban taxis from some bus lanes could force drivers off the road for good.

Tom McGeown, who has been a taxi driver in Dublin for 20 years, said drivers are facing “a lot of issues”. He was off the road for three and a half months and since he returned has only been getting about one-fifth of the work he did before the pandemic.

He told the issuing of new taxi licences should be suspended until work has returned to pre-pandemic levels and more supports are available for drivers.

“There are certain companies advertising for new drivers, claiming that they can make a living when other drivers are sitting at home. Why are they putting new licences on the road when current licences are actually on shelves in sheds?”

McGeown said it’s unfair to say taxi drivers are “not part of the transport infrastructure”, adding “we are the backbone of it”.

“When all other transport entities are in their beds, we’re driving people home. We need to be recognised a little bit more.”

Bus lanes

McGeown said proposals to ban taxis from using some bus lanes in Dublin at certain times “would absolutely kill our business that’s already dead”.

“Business people like to travel in bus lanes because they want to get into work quickly, if there are no bus lanes for us it’s going force business people onto buses.”

Derek Jackson, who has driven taxis in the capital for over 20 years, added: “Nobody is going to get my taxi or Tom’s or any of the rest of the drivers here if they’re going to have to sit in normal traffic, you may as well sit in a bus, it’s not viable for people.”

He said if the government wants to reduce the environmental impact of cars, it should give taxi drivers subsidies to buy electric vehicles, rather than ban taxis from bus lanes.

Jackson said taxi drivers were here before many buses and the Luas but are the “ones to get pushed out” despite many people relying on them.

“There are loads of things wrong with the industry, the government are just not listening,” Jackson said. He noted that taxi drivers “were bringing people to hospitals and collecting PPE gear, bringing staff to nursing homes”, adding “there was no recognition for taxi drivers for that”.

“We were the ones that were doing it, Dublin Bus weren’t dropping people to work as far as right into the hospitals and right into the clinics and wherever people had appointments. We were the ones doing it. We were collecting prescriptions for pensioners. It’s very frustrating. It’s like nobody cares what we’re doing,” Jackson told us.

‘We need to feed our families’

Some of the drivers at the protest, including Ishtiaq Ahmad, worked overnight and came straight to the protest. Ahmad told he typically works at night but that business has been very slow recently.

“We need to live, that’s why we here, because we can’t make anything nowadays and we have families as well and need to feed them.”

coronavirus-tue-sep-15-2020 Niall Carson / PA Wire/PA Images Taxi drivers outside Government Buildings today. Niall Carson / PA Wire/PA Images / PA Wire/PA Images

Ahmad was off the road for three months and received an unemployment payment but said this wasn’t enough to live off so he came back to work. He said he pays around €6,000 for insurance every year.

“That’s why I came back to work. But we don’t have normal work, nowadays we have just 20%. At the moment there are no sports, obviously no concerts, no pubs, nothing.

“Everything is closed at half 10, after that there is nothing on the road, dead. We’re just driving around, around, around, it’s a very hard time. We just need a little bit of help from the government, that’s it,” he said.

Ahmad said he has been to previous protests by taxi drivers and today was the biggest turnout.

The drivers at today’s protest were mainly Dublin-based but some drivers travelled from counties such as Cork, Kery, Galway, Kilkenny and Waterford to attend the demonstration, leaving early this morning to make it on time.

“What we see today – every colour and creed that’s in this industry is here, and we’re standing together. It’s nice to see, there’s a huge united front,” McKeown said.

Four unions

A joint statement from the National Private Hire & Taxi Association (NPHTA), the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation (ITDF), the Taxi Alliance of Ireland (TAI) and Tiomanaí Tacsaí na hÉireann (TTNH) said taxi drivers “have been overlooked during this pandemic”.

Drivers are calling for the following:

  • A requirement to provide a financial package to help drivers get back to work. This should include a temporary weekly subsidy similar to wage subsidy given to employees. Grants to assist in fixed costs estimated by National Transport Authority at €11,433 per year and increased costs due to pandemic. Licence renewals should be issued free of charge and interest free loans should be made available.
  • The retention and continued access to bus lanes and access to quality bus corridors.
  • A moratorium on the issuing of taxi licences needs to be implemented until business levels start to approach pre-pandemic figures.
  • All vehicles in the fleet should be allowed a two-year extension on age limit requirements. This would allow cars to stay in the fleet up to 12 years old.
  • The Taxi Advisory Committee to be disbanded.

The statement adds: “The Taxi Advisory Committee is not fit for purpose. This was highlighted through our appearance during our submission to the Covid (Oireachtas) committee.

“Recently two representatives resigned from the Taxi Advisory Committee when it became apparent the department of transport would not accept the advice given by the committee. The TAC needs to be disbanded for a national transport forum allowing all bodies who use the public roads a forum to input positively to the transport system of Ireland.”

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