I thank my colleague for giving me the opportunity to make a contribution on this important matter which is causing great anguish and concern among taxi owners and taxi operators in towns throughout provincial Ireland, particularly in Mullingar, County Westmeath. A small public service vehicle in layman's terms is a taxi, hackney or minibus. Each such vehicle intended for use as a small public service vehicle must be approved by the public service vehicle inspector for the area in which the business is based and must be included on the taxi or hackney licence under which the relevant business is operated.
The regulatory position underpinning application for and renewal of licences to drive a small public service vehicles is to be found in Regulation 34 of the Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicle) Regulations, 1963, as subsequently substituted by the Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations, 1970 (S.I. 200 of 1970) which were subsequently amended by the 1977 regulations found in S.I. 111 of 1977.
It appears that the Garda authorities have commenced to interpret the regulations in a different manner from that which heretofore applied. Under the current interpretation of the foregoing regulations, such renewals will no longer be granted. What this in effect means is that any persons who wish to work as drivers of taxis, hackney cabs and minibuses are required to be available for work for a minimum of 40 hours per week. This will create a major crisis for drivers of such taxis and hackneys, and indeed for owners-operators of such vehicles, as there will not be sufficient full-time drivers available to compensate for the widespread loss of such licences. This will have serious adverse consequences for the livelihoods of the taxi owners-operators and for the general public who have relied upon an excellent and efficient service provided by taxis and hackneys.
We pride ourselves on inculcating in citizens a deep respect for our laws. Taxi owners-operators fulfil their role admirably in many facets, but especially in providing transport to people who wish to enjoy a drink in their local pubs and who, in obeying the drink-driving laws, require transport back to their homes. As somebody who comes from a rural area, I am deeply appreciative of the level of service afforded by these operators in such areas where there is virtually no public transport system. These operators also provide a means of conveying children to school and transporting people for hospital treatment. As I understand it, there is currently no power available under the current regulations to classify drivers as part-time drivers so as to permit their business to operate to maximum efficiency, which would in turn permit appropriate rest hours for the owners-operators where the business is capable of utilising another driver but is not of sufficient capacity to employ such a driver on a full-time basis.
The difficulty being encountered can be readily dealt with by simply amending the existing regulations. I will put forward a short amendment, although I am not paid for drafting, but I will try to help the Minister in any way I can. I respectfully suggest that the form of undertaking which is required to be completed in Appendix B of the regulations be amended to include therein that the form of undertaking to accompany the application would read "Application For Full-Time or Part-Time Licence to Drive Small Public Service Vehicles", and thereunder include the following as an addendum to the present undertaking, which incorporates a part-time licence as follows: "I hereby undertake that in the event of a part-time licence to drive small public service vehicles being granted to me pursuant to section 34 of the Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicle) Regulations, 1963-70, I will be available as a part-time driver of a small public service vehicle for not more than 24 hours in each calendar week (subject to statutory holiday entitlement) and that I will not so drive more than 8 hours per day in any three consecutive days and not more than 24 hours in any calendar week."
I would urge the Minister to accede to that reasonable request for a new category which can be designated as a part-time licence-holder. That would overcome the difficulties being experienced by those who provide this important service.