Taxi Regulation Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Report Stage

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has conveyed her apologies to me for her absence today. I have agreed to allow Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett to take her amendments.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 10, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:

"(a) the requirement that vehicle registration, licence and insurance be held in one name;".

One of the major concerns with regard to this legislation is one of which the Minister of State is well aware, namely, the need to ensure that all taxi drivers are properly licensed and insured. The various organisations representing the industry have repeatedly called for action to deal with the problem of rogue drivers. It is generally accepted that there is a massive oversupply of taxis as a result of the completely uncontrolled deregulation of the industry overseen by a previous Government. It has led to an extremely difficult, if not disastrous, situation for taxi drivers. The very least they require is legal support for a regime which ensures that all drivers are properly qualified and licensed.

The Minister of State indicated to me before the debate that he accepts the thrust of this amendment and assured me there is now a regulation in place to achieve the same end. The taxi drivers to whom I have spoken, however, have asked me to put it to him that this requirement should be set out clearly in the legislation for the avoidance of any ambiguity. Their strong preference for explicit legislative provision arises from the failure, certainly from their perspective, of regulation in the past. Even where regulations have been in place, the strong view among people in the industry is that they have not been enforced. A specific provision in the Bill, as set out in amendment No. 1, would offer an important assurance to legitimate drivers.

I support the amendment and agree that the requirement regarding licensing and insurance should be set out in a categorical way in the legislation. There is concern among taxi drivers that the nature of the business lends itself to an unregulated element. To clarify one point made by Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, deregulation was not, as such, a decision by a previous Government but had more to do with a court case decision which found that the existing legislative provisions were a problem from a consumer perspective. It is not a major point, but it does no harm to clarify it.

Anything we can do in this legislation to reflect the desire of Members on all sides of the House to ensure we have a properly regulated taxi industry should be done. It should be seen as a full-time profession, not a go-to sector for part-time operators and fly-by-nights without proper qualifications.

It should allow those who decide to take part in the profession to make a meaningful existence, carry on their business and raise a family the same as anyone else in a profession.

I thank the Deputies for their comments. I accept the thrust of the amendment as indicated previously. The regulation is in place to actualise what he is asking for. The Bill sets out the general licensing principles and the powers for the National Transport Authority to make licensing regulations. Following the recommendations of the taxi regulation review report, the NTA has already made regulations under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003, which provides that the holder of an SPSV licence must be the registered owner of the vehicle concerned and have insurance for that vehicle. It is a package. Regulations also provide for full-package rental only so that it is no longer possible, since 1 January, to rent a taxi plate only. Members on all sides of the House have said that is the right thing to do. The application of these regulations is preserved under section 67 of the Bill, until such time as the NTA makes revised regulations under the provisions of this Bill following enactment. Such matters concerning the administration of the licensing system are best dealt with in secondary legislation.

Therefore, as there is adequate provision in the existing legislation and in the Bill to provide for the regulatory requirement as proposed by the Deputy, I will not make further amendment to the Bill in this regard. While I accept the thrust of the point he is making, it is already provided for and I am happy it is adequately provided for.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. What would give the taxi drivers a greater degree of comfort and assurance is if the Minister of State can spell out how there will be proper enforcement. I take the point that the Minister of State is providing for this in secondary legislation and that the regulation is in place. However, the taxi drivers feel there is a long history of failed regulation and that, even now, the situation is unacceptable. I was talking to a taxi driver yesterday who mentioned the new app that allows people to identify whether a driver is properly registered. He is a representative for one of the taxi groups and on a regular basis he uses the app and finds three or four people who are not properly registered and licensed in the space of an hour or two on any given day. Is there anything the Minister of State can say to give greater assurance to taxi drivers that this is really going to happen?

Absolutely, enforcement is going to improve dramatically, as set out in the Bill. There is provision to provide for many more enforcement officers across this city and across the country. As a result, the National Transport Authority has been in the process of putting in place such a larger enforcement regime, which is necessary. Despite the massive amount of regulatory changes that I have imposed after the review and despite this Bill, the most comprehensive taxi Bill ever in this country, without enforcement this work will not achieve what we collectively desire. That is happening and will be in place. I have also spoken to the drivers the Deputy refers to. They will see this directly in their face. Those who have nothing to worry about will have no issue with this.

The free app is very successful for anyone who wants to check out taxi drivers and taxis prior to getting in. The app is almost 100% accurate in respect of data. Some drivers do not update information quickly enough, which accounts for some of the information referred to. Quite soon, it will be communicated by the National Transport Authority that it is unacceptable for a car to be rented out and for someone to be driving and not have updated information. Drivers have been given adequate notice and the app has been in place for a considerable period of time. Members of the public can report those who are not registered. The enforcement that will follow will come to the fore in the coming months.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 2, and 10 to 13, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 15, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

“(d) excluding for consideration under this section any conviction covered by the terms of the Good Friday Agreement 1998;”.

I have raised this with the Minister of State on numerous occasions. The amendment concerns the Good Friday Agreement and ex-prisoners. I have made the point many times and have provided the Minister of State with legal advice. I also pointed to a court case in the north of our country where the judge clearly ruled that a person could not be barred on the basis of a conviction and being an ex-prisoner under the Good Friday Agreement. We raised this point in the Dáil and the Seanad time out of number. I gave the Minister of State a document on this. The Minister of State keeps telling me he has legal advice that he cannot do that but there is nothing to preclude us from doing it. The Minister of State talked about spent convictions and how the matter can be raised under that legislation but we do not have to do so. The measure could be included in a single paragraph in this Bill stating that people are exempt. I do not have a problem with it if people were convicted after 1988 and were involved in serious crime but there are serious repercussions for many families across this island. Many ex-republicans and ex-prisoners are involved in the taxi industry. The Government, the Labour Party and Fine Gael signed up to the Good Friday Agreement and all it entailed. I see no reason the Minister of State cannot include a clause that would protect these people.

I cannot accept these amendments, as the Deputy is well aware at this stage. We have been around the houses on this point, on Second Stage, on Committee Stage and on a few radio stations. These amendments seek dispensation in the Bill for those convicted of offences covered by the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It is simply not appropriate for me to specify such an exclusion in the context of the proposed legislation. This is a Bill dealing with taxis. Section 10 of the Bill provides for the consideration of such offences in the assessment of suitability of a licence applicant or licence holder. Sections 30 and 31 concern mandatory disqualification for conviction for the most serious of offences and an obligation to notify conviction for these offences to the licensing authority.

The point at issue in the taxi legislation is the safety of passengers who are in a vulnerable position in a taxi. Nevertheless, because of the restriction this places over the possibility of persons to participate in the industry, the grounds for mandatory disqualification is, for legal reasons, narrowly defined. It is not possible in legislation to seek to further define instances where there may be mitigating circumstances that justify the non-application of the disqualification. That is why the Taxi Regulation Bill makes specific provision for an appeal to the courts on mandatory disqualification so that exceptions are possible where the courts determine it is appropriate. The courts are positioned to make that kind of judgment.

Under section 30(10), in determining whether to grant or refuse such an application, the court can have regard to any matter that the court considered relevant. I am not prepared to accept an amendment to the Bill to give special treatment to one category of convicts. If there are grounds for special treatment, the courts can deal with it.

We keep raising the issue of the courts, the expense that would entail in bringing persons through that process and the time it would take if somebody was sought and brought through in this fashion. I asked the Minister of State previously about providing for some independent way of dealing with these issues so as not to have to refer to the courts all the time. It would be good if he looked at that idea. He keeps mentioning the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 which is not yet in place. We are talking about something we are doing now and need clarity, not about something that will happen in the future. We will have no difficulty with addressing it when that legislation is brought forward, but it is what happens in the here and now that matters.

I must take issue with the Deputy. As regards the different treatment of categories of offenders, the context for that debate in these Houses was set in the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012. It would be incongruous for me to make provision in taxi legislation in the context of the Good Friday Agreement that would override the terms of such legislation as the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012. That Bill was initiated in and passed by the Seanad and is now being debated in the Dáil. As I have stated on previous occasions - the Deputy seems to be replying to a different question - his party did not raise any amendment to the Bill in the Seanad relating to the Good Friday Agreement. On numerous occasions the Deputy has stated incorrectly and in a manner which I find totally unacceptable that I sat in the Seanad Chamber and replied when the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 was being debated. He said so recently in a radio interview. I hold a copy of the transcript of the debate on that date. I was not present and did not reply. The Deputy's party did not table any amendment. It did table amendments to the Taxi Regulation Bill 2012 but not to the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012. If the Deputy wants to table amendments, this is the Bill to which he should table them. I have outlined to him on numerous occasions, given the legal advice which I must follow, that it is not possible to follow the criteria outlined by him. I will be following at all times the advice I have been given in this regard by the Attorney General and the officials.

The Minister of State has repeatedly referred to the Seanad debate in terms of our tabling amendments; I have the evidence that we did.

The Deputy's party did not do so. There were no amendments to the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012.

I am talking about the Seanad debate on the Taxi Regulation Bill 2012.

We are not getting into it.

Okay. Certainly, my party's position is clear. We have outlined it time out of number. The Minister of State is well aware of it and he has refused to do this, even though his party was a signatory of the Good Friday Agreement. In stating the Government will look at the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 he is passing the buck. I just do not accept that.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 95.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Dessie Ellis; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe.
Amendment declared.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 15, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:

“(c) where their other occupation is deemed to be full-time, will not be granted a licence to drive SPSV.”.

I move this amendment on behalf of Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

I note the Minister of State's Bill requires that those requesting a licence must give notice if they have other employment. I have spoken to representatives of taxi drivers and of the industry and they would like the legislation to go further. Their view is that full-time taxi drivers who are barely scraping a living as it is in a very difficult environment are then faced with a flood of people who are cherry-picking the good work at the weekend and at peak times.

That is really unfair on people whose sole livelihood is derived from driving a taxi, as opposed to people who supplement incomes by cherry-picking good work. These people are looking for a stipulation that where somebody has another full-time job, the person should not receive a taxi licence. They have asked me to press the amendment and although I do not know if the Minister of State has any comment on it, these people see it as a way to deal with the pretty untenable position faced by many.

The Minister of State is aware from amendments I tabled on Committee Stage and issues I raised on Second Stage that I am in total agreement with the principle at play in Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's amendment. There are potential issues regarding competition but I support the spirit of what is advocated. The taxi business should be a full-time operation and taxi drivers should expect to be able to make a decent and honourable living from it. It is the only way we can be assured that a quality service will ultimately be provided to the consumer, so any legislation we enact should be aimed at trying to achieve that goal. I accept it can be difficult to do this in a legislative fashion because of other laws and competition issues but the matter should be at the heart of what we wish to do in this House.

A former Minister, Noel Dempsey, tried to address this matter through conditions dealing with the qualitative nature of the taxi business and putting certain regulations in place that make it difficult for those whom I would term fly-by-nights or part-time workers who cherry-pick the work at busy periods such as at weekends or when certain events are held. I encourage the Minister of State and his officials to try to put in place the appropriate level of restriction while recognising the necessity not to conflict with other provisions in broader legislation. We do not want this to be struck down by the courts.

I will briefly raise a few issues. I support the comments of previous speakers about bringing in more control. During race week in Galway I got a taxi from town that had come from Sligo; the driver was going to work in Galway that evening before heading back to Sligo, which is an example of unfair work practices. I will raise another matter that occurred in Galway a while back, and I had raised it with the Minister of State's predecessor, the Garda Síochána and the taxi regulator. With this case, a certain individual purchased ten cars and registered them as taxis, complete with plates and licences. He paid the first instalment of his insurance premium on the ten cars and registered in a house on the east side of Galway city. The cars and drivers were put on the road for 24 hours a day, and the insurance company tried to contact the individual because after two months he stopped paying his insurance premium. However, he was no longer at his registered address. The person is a non-national but I am not being racist. I was questioned by gardaí when I raised the matter and a complaint was lodged against the person, so I am very familiar with the case. These cars remained on the road and the insurance certificate was put on the windscreen despite the car not being insured. In fairness to the taxi regulator, when I raised the matter it tried to cordon off the city to see if the people involved in the operation could be caught. From what I can gather, that was not possible.

That is one issue but a young family with a husband, wife and three kids could get into one of those uninsured cars. What would happen if there was an accident? Perhaps something should be tightened up or controls could be put in place. Maybe there are provisions in that area in the Bill. We must ensure that the vast majority of people driving taxis are law-abiding citizens. I know another case of a young lady visiting Galway who did not know the city. When she got in a taxi to go to an establishment in Oranmore, the taxi driver said he had never heard of it. A taxi run from Galway city to Oranmore is approximately €10 or €15 but this woman was charged €56. That is what is going on in certain cases.

Perhaps if people are abusing the system, the issues could be tidied up.

The Deputy will see that they are if he reads the Bill.

I appreciate that, and in all fairness I should have read the Bill but did not. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State is dealing the matter and it is about time it happened. I compliment him on his tidying up those loose ends.

To be fair, the Deputy has acknowledged the fact the Bill is dealing with all the issues he raised. They need to be dealt with, although I will not go over our history of lax regulation. I will not look to make political points or deal with individuals who had to look after regulatory affairs. It was an absolute mess and this legislation will work hand in glove with regulations that are to be introduced. I accept the frustration felt by many in the industry and the work cannot be done overnight. We must work within the law, and as Deputy Dooley mentioned, there are constraints relating to legal issues and European and domestic competition laws etc. The qualitative changes will incrementally overhaul this industry and enforcement will happen. I have dedicated two years of my life to ensuring that this industry will be completely cleaned up. In many ways I would like to have done this differently but one must work within the framework of the laws of the land and adhere to European laws as well.

The taxi driver working in Galway operating out of Sligo obviously has a licence to operate in Galway and must have passed the local test. Otherwise he should not have been operating outside Sligo. The Deputy detailed the issue concerning a gentleman with multiple cars and all the legislation we are putting through here is aimed at dealing with such matters. There was a famous "Prime Time" report but I knew about that before it was publicised. I wanted the issue to be in the public eye before we brought through some of the regulations because we wanted the public on-side.

I will not accept the amendment as outlined but I agree with the spirit of what has been said. I have stated numerous times in the House, the Seanad and in committee, as well as on national television and radio, that my orientation has always been towards full-time taxi drivers. I accept that they have been dealt a very tough hand over a number of years because of the volume of taxis, particularly in large urban areas, and there is a need for massive change. The legislation has gone through much thought and analysis with the Attorney General, and it is going as far as we can. We do not want to act in a way that could endanger the legislation.

The proposed amendments seek to exclude persons holding or applying for a taxi licence who are also in other full-time employment from operating in the industry. I sympathise with full-time taxi drivers in the industry who comply with regulations and find themselves in an increasingly competitive environment, working longer hours with fewer potential fares on the streets than there would be in better economic times.

I get taxis frequently.

However, the restatement of section 11, as amended on Committee stage, sets out the narrow parameters within which the obligation to inform the authority of other occupations can be applied. This is after going through an extensive filtration process. The first is an obligation on a licence applicant or holder in the case of all other employment to inform the authority, and, second, in the case of other employment involving driving a vehicle that the person has an added obligation to show to the authority that the employer has been notified. I am assured by advisory counsel that such a provision would not raise difficulties in terms of constitutional rights or rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. It is entirely reasonable that the Oireachtas can require that an employer, where the other occupation involves driving, be aware of the fact that an employee may be driving a taxi in order that the employer in question can satisfy him or herself that the employee is capable of safely discharging driving activities connected with his or her employment.

I have gone as far as I can in this provision in light of the potential risk of legal challenge concerning a person's constitutional rights. It is not open to me to consider legislating for a prohibition for persons with another full-time occupation on engaging in the taxi industry on a part-time basis. The provision of services on a part-time basis is an important factor ensuring an adequate supply of services in some cases.

The amendment would also have a significant detrimental effect on services in rural Ireland. The Bill applies not only to Dublin and Cork but to the entire country. There are no full-time taxi drivers where I come from because there is no market for them. The amendment would seriously affect the part-time drivers who operate in my area and we should not affect them in a detrimental way. I will not accept the amendment for the reasons I have outlined.

This is tricky. I accept that the Bill is a significant advance on what was an anarchic scenario, which was unfair to full-time taxi drivers and which the Government inherited. It was more than legal problems that led a previous Government to deregulation. An ideological bent was pursued, particularly by the Progressive Democrats Party, which Fianna Fáil went along with, where it decided it would just let the market rip. It was disastrous for taxi drivers. The lines of taxi drivers, the numbers of taxis, the frustrated drivers sitting on ranks for hours fighting for inadequate rank space unable to make a living and the terrifying spike among drivers all resulted from that ideological pursuit and the economic crash on top of that. I accept this is a genuine effort by the Minister of State to clean up the industry and regulate it in a way that should improve conditions for taxi drivers. However, they have good cause to say that where some full-time drivers can barely make a living and part-time drivers who have other full-time work can come in and cherry-pick the good work, something has to be done about that. It is not fair and the Bill does not go far enough in this regard.

However, I am slightly queasy about pressing the amendment to a vote. I am not worried about legal considerations because many proposals are shot down on the basis that there will be legal problems but they can be fought in court.

The issue relating to rural Ireland is important. The amendment does not cover it. It should provide that an applicant should not be given a licence if he has a full-time job except in certain specified circumstances where a need is identified. That is probably what it should say. In that circumstance, I cannot press it. However, the Minister of State has to go further on this but I do not know how that can be done.

Taxi drivers need to know that regulation will not only deal with the issues of proper licensing, registration, passenger safety, fly-by-nights and so on but deal specifically with the issue of double jobbing. Something has to be done about that because it is seriously unfair. I hope the Minister of State takes the issue on board and that he will work with industry representatives to come up with a formulation that can deal with double jobbing. Given the legitimate issue he has raised about rural areas, I will leave it at that.

Judging drivers on the basis of having another job that involved driving would not necessarily work. They could have other jobs that would lead to fatigue and that is my worry. That needs to be examined further.

The issue is not about part-time drivers. Nobody was saying part-time drivers should be excluded. However, taxi drivers who have part-time or full-time jobs use the bus lanes to go from A to B. Will the Minister of State comment on how he is tackling that?

I do not wish to drift into a debate on everything related to the taxi industry. Taxis are allowed to use bus lanes and that should not be changed. Ensuring drivers are using the lanes legitimately is a larger enforcement issue.

Deputies will accept I must work within the legal frameworks of the State and I must accept the advice I receive. I have gone as far as I can on this issue. I have gone a long way and pushed it as far as I can. I accept the spirit of Deputies' comments. With regard to part-time drivers cherry-picking work and coming in and out of the industry to make a few bob during a high volume weekend to travel to watch Manchester United and so on, the issue is ensuring the regulations and their enforcement ensure greater professionalism in order that if people want to be in the industry, they will have to do everything right. Cherry-picking work and jumping in and out will not be an option. This will happen over time. That is the way to deal with those who do not put the investment into the industry.

The rural issue is legitimate and I accept what Deputy Boyd Barrett said but to define an amendment as he proposes would be tricky, difficult and almost impossible.

With regard to the hours worked by drivers, we will examine safety regulations in the future to see how they can be amended. I will give that commitment to the House. We examined them previously to see how they could be amended.

The case of the driver who charged €56 is unacceptable. A process now exists whereby the occupant of the car could complain and under the terms of the Bill the driver's licence could be suspended for three months.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 16, lines 17 and 18, to delete “(whether or not the licence holder has been convicted of an offence in relation to the contravention)”.

The amendments relate to the potential unintended consequence of some aspects of regulation, which taxi drivers generally welcome. They want regulation and all the issues we have already discussed but they do not want full-time taxi drivers to become the unintended victims of the legislation. They are far more knowledgeable about the full details of the Bill than I. I have followed the issue for some years but I do not pretend to know every single detail outlined in the Bill.

Is that an indication of fallibility?

The argument they have asked me to put is that the system through which one could lose one’s licence or have it suspended for a three-month period following the accumulation of eight demerits is potentially problematic for legitimate full-time taxi drivers. For example, the lack of rank space, of which the Minister of State is well aware, means that sometimes taxis have to queue up at the end of ranks and are not quite in the rank but there is nowhere else to go and that could potentially lead to demerits against them. Other relatively small issues could result in demerits for taxi drivers who are trying to do their job in good faith and drivers could find themselves suspended and have great difficulty in getting their licence back.

Taxi drivers also expressed concern about car insurance during the period when their PSV licence is suspended for three months. The amendment seeks to delete a reference to the potential sanction of the suspension of a licence for taxi drivers whether a licence holder has been convicted of an offence relating to the contravention. It seems problematic if they have not been convicted. If they have, it is one thing, but it is a problem in the event of no conviction being made. That seems to suggest punitive action could be taken against taxi drivers for potentially trivial offences that could endanger their ability to make a living and sustain their job. I would welcome a comment from the Minister on that but I am inclined to press the amendments.

The provisions of section 12 have been considered in some depth by my Department and by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel of the Attorney General’s office. The reason for this is that the consequences of such a provision – to revoke or suspend a licence - affects a person’s ability to earn a living. Therefore the basis upon which such a decision would be taken by a licensing authority must be precise and explicitly provided for in primary legislation.

It is entirely reasonable that the contraventions that might be the basis for decision under section 12, whether or not there is a conviction for such a contravention, would include contraventions under the provisions of this Act or under regulations made under this Act, or contravention of the terms and conditions of the licence or any code of practice. Some of these contraventions would carry with them offences, and the licensing authority would also take into consideration if the licence holder had a conviction for such an offence.

The licensing authority is of course always subject to a duty to exercise its powers in a reasonable manner. That is absolute: it must exercise its power in such a manner. There are appeal provisions in place so as to ensure this is the case. Therefore, I cannot agree to the deletion of text as proposed by the Deputy in amendment No. 4.

I also cannot agree to amendment No. 5, which seeks to delete the power of a licensing authority to suspend a licence for three months under section 12. The revocation provision under section 12 is based on a tiered approach. That gives the licensing authority a degree of discretion to determine that a contravention under the Act, regulations or terms and conditions of a licence, or failure to provide correct and true information could incur a lesser penalty than revocation – either suspension for three months or a reprimand, warning, caution or advice. Therefore, section 12 provides for a suite of sanctions that can be applied on a proportionate basis.

I accept that I cannot press amendment No. 5 because there are circumstances where suspension is legitimate, justified and necessary. Taxi drivers share that view. What legitimate full-time taxi drivers are worried about is finding themselves suspended and having difficulty getting back their licence. They submitted some questions to the NTA on the issue but the answer was not clearly spelled out. They asked how a driver would retrieve his or her licence if suspended after reaching eight points under the new system. The response from the NTA was that this could not conclusively be answered until the Taxi Regulation Bill is enacted. However, it replied it is understood that the current intention is that the licence would be automatically suspended for a prescribed period upon reaching the threshold of demerit points and would be automatically restored upon expiry of that prescribed suspension period. It stated, however, that the above position was subject to the conclusion of the Bill. Taxi drivers are worried about the uncertainty, in addition to the low threshold of eight points. What can the Minister of State say to clarify the situation and give some assurance that legitimate taxi drivers will not fall foul of the provision?

I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett about amendment No. 5. It would not be a good idea to remove the ability to suspend taxi drivers. I am concerned about demerit points. Local authorities provide very few taxi ranks. The rank at the Gresham Hotel is to be removed. We will impose a system after the accumulation of eight points which could be for people parking illegally or otherwise but we do not have the proper ranks. What will be done in conjunction with local authorities on the provision of taxi ranks not just in Dublin but throughout the country? Demerit points could build up quickly and that is why taxi drivers are worried. Are we going to have flexibility in that regard because local authorities do not have taxi ranks in place?

A degree of common sense is required. The number of points is appropriate. Some groups thought it was too much. The reason the National Transport Authority responded to the letter in that manner is that it cannot be absolute prior to the Bill being passed through the House. I would not expect any other national organisation to write such a letter in a different way.

The demerit system took a long time to devise. It is designed to be proportionate. The demerits went through a filtration process and there was much consultation with drivers.

It should not be and will not be easy to get eight demerits. A proportionate and commonsense approach will have to be applied to this. It should not be an issue for full-time taxi drivers. I meet many of them all the time and note that they always adhere to the rules and regulations. They are always compliant. The measure will not affect them.

Let me make a point to show that we do listen. The issue raised by the Deputy Dessie Ellis on ranks has been addressed as regards demerits. I actually listened to the case made and addressed the matter because the point was legitimate. I have written to local authorities and met local authority representatives across the country. I have said to county managers that we need more taxi ranks and space and that we need to be using loading bays and vacant spaces available. I have made this point continually. As members all know, local authorities have difficulty in finding space in cities. Owing to representations made to me, I listened and we made changes. Members were probably not made aware of this. We made the changes in accordance with the demerits.

The NTA will act in a very proportionate manner in this matter. It needs a degree of flexibility because, as was said previously by a Deputy, there are some drivers who need to be dealt with. There are some who obtained licences under an old regime and I do not know how they got them. I have got into cars, particularly in Dublin, and could not understand how the drivers could have licences. There was a lack of regulation, but the drivers have licences and one cannot exactly take them off them now. It is virtually impossible as the licences are legally held. Obviously, through some process involving a lack of regulation, the licences were obtained. We need a process for dealing with the drivers in question through this Bill. I am intent on dealing with those who are not providing a proper service in the industry. This legislation is a way of doing this and I ask the Deputies for their support.

We are all generally singing from the same hymn sheet on these matters and want to do the right thing. Drivers have told me that even legitimate drivers who are trying to play the game by the rules and want a proper, professional regulated industry believe it could be quite easy to reach eight demerits. The Minister of State made a point on ranks that was reasonable. Drivers have asked questions about what happens during the suspension period. The Minister of State has not reverted to us on that issue. Is the return of a licence automatic? How does one insure one’s car during the period of suspension? One may use one's car for normal driving. Taxi drivers are quite worried and want clarification and an assurance that legitimate drivers will not fall foul of the system. They are not entirely convinced that that is the case.

With regard to the revocation, a licence will stand suspended for three months. Obviously, on reaching the end of the three-month period, the licence will be back in place. Insurance is a matter for the driver. I will not be getting involved in the intricacies of insurance. A driver's insurance is a matter for himself or herself. Everyone's circumstances will be different.

I stress to the Deputy that taxi drivers cannot have it both ways if they want me to clean up the industry, deal with the rogue drivers, as they call them, and deal with the part-timers, particularly those who are not bringing professionalism to the industry. They do not necessarily want the demerits. It is impossible to have it both ways. One must put in place a regime under which one can take licences off people or suspend them for reasonable reasons in order to clean up the industry. The Deputy must remember that I inherited the industry. I must clean it up within the provisions of the laws of the State and the European Union, including competition laws. I cannot just remove 20% of drivers; that is impossible. The processes in place are the legitimate ones to deal with the industry.

There is broad consensus in the House in favour of most of the provisions of the Bill. It is absolutely untrue to state the demerits will remove some drivers. That will not happen. I would not be bringing forward this legislation if I believed a national transport authority was going to act in an autocratic way to remove legitimate drivers. I would not tolerate or accept this. That is why I listened to the drivers on the issue of ranks. One must accept the bona fides. Ultimately, the National Transport Authority had to be changed around completely to focus on this matter. As a Minister of State, I have dedicated considerable time to cleaning up the industry. I am absolutely convinced that the demerit scheme should help the industry and that it is proportionate. I cannot say any more than this.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 22, line 29, after “disabilities” to insert the following:

“by facilitating small public service vehicle licence holders affordable and sustainable opportunities to adapt and maintain their vehicles in order to fully cater to people with disabilities using their services”.

I will press the amendment.

Probably not by the time I am finished with it.

The Minister of State is doing well, but there are many assurances that must follow on from it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We need to see whether words translate into action. That is what taxi drivers want to know. Let us hope they do translate. I fully accept that the legislation makes substantial progress, but I am questioning whether it will fully cover all bases.

This issue is important in itself because we want to promote a public transport system that facilitates people with a disability. We want to do everything to assist in this regard. It is expensive for taxi drivers to adapt their vehicles to make them suitable for use by people with disabilities. This amendment seeks to acknowledge that fact and give assistance to taxi drivers to provide a service that can be used by people with disabilities.

An issue raised with me last night makes this amendment even more important.

It confirms the need for this amendment and also for action by the Minister. There may even be a requirement for regulations which go beyond this amendment. I raised with the Minister of State prior to the debate on this legislation the fact that it appears that organisations which have charitable status and are providing transport services for people with disabilities and the elderly are going way beyond their remit and essentially acting as companies competing with taxis for normal taxi business. They are undercutting normal taxis by using the benefit of grants and subsidies they receive from the Government to charge lower fares than taxi drivers would charge for the same service. That is a serious abuse and puts taxi drivers at a serious disadvantage.

There is one particular firm whose name I should probably not mention in the House but ---

I know the firm to which the Deputy refers.

I will give the Minister the details later but this particular firm is operating in north Dublin. I have some documents in front of me and I will cover up the logo before showing them to Members of the House. Essentially, these documents are price lists which directly compare the cost of their service per kilometre to the cost of a taxi. Taxi drivers have phoned this supposed charity for the disabled and asked for a taxi to bring a relative to a particular destination. They have been told there is no problem, that the car will arrive within five minutes. The firm is charging two thirds of what a normal taxi would charge for the same journey. That firm is getting Government money to do that, which is an unacceptable abuse that must be dealt with urgently. Taxi drivers are saying that if firms such as the one I mentioned are getting a subvention to provide services for the disabled and elderly, legitimately, then taxi drivers should also be given a subvention. One suggestion is that VRT might be refunded for cars that are specially adapted by taxi drivers so that they get some financial assistance for adapting their cars. In that way, the playing field would be more level. Beyond that, I would ask the Minister of State to urgently address the situation whereby supposedly charitable organisations are essentially undercutting those in the taxi industry. That is really not on and I hope the Minister of State will act urgently.

I will be pressing the amendment.

I support this amendment. It would appear that the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis is reducing. In the past, the Government provided grants to taxi drivers to provide wheelchair-accessible services. I also have concerns about those organisations with charitable status which are undercutting taxi drivers. In my opinion, they are abusing their position and that should be examined immediately.

The Minister of State spoke about the fact that he was considering introducing wheelchair-accessible taxis at some point in the future. I ask him to outline his plan in that regard because it certainly seems to be the case that the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis on the road is reducing. There is a very good reason for that. It is much more convenient for drivers to pick up people without having to convert their cars. We need to address this issue.

I have a question regarding moneys raised from the taxi industry. The NTA received money from the industry. I ask the Minister of State to provide the figure because some people have told me that it is in the tens of millions. I do not know if that is the case and am asking the Minister of State to clarify that point. Can any of that money be used for wheelchair-accessible taxis? I know some of the money is given to local authorities to provide parking spaces and so forth but could some of it be used to assist in the delivery of more wheelchair-accessible vehicles?

I rise to support this amendment, or more specifically, the spirit of the amendment. It is vitally important that in our efforts to regulate the industry in a fair and consistent manner we do not forget about providing for those with disabilities and ensuring there is adequate provision of suitably adapted vehicles to meet their needs. That issue was taken into consideration previously when the only licences that were issued were to those drivers who had wheelchair-accessible vehicles. That was a provision that facilitated individuals in becoming licensed taxi operators. However, I have certainly seen a reduction in the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles on the road and that has also been reported to me by various disability groups. Notwithstanding that, it is outrageous that some charitable organisations are misusing legislative provisions to establish a service providing transportation for the disabled, seeking State support to do that and then plying their wares, so to speak, in direct competition with taxis. However, the provisions of this legislation would, in my view, automatically preclude them for doing that. It is probably an enforcement issue rather than a legislative one. That said, it is important to highlight the matter because a number of taxi drivers have raised this issue with me. It is my view that in the legislation as it is currently drafted the provision to deal with this is already there but it will have to be enforced in a very real way. Otherwise, what this Bill is trying to achieve will be damaged.

I do not have the exact figure sought by Deputy Ellis but I believe it is somewhere in the region of €10 million and the money is used to defray the administrative costs of the NTA and also for regulating the taxi industry. Deputy Boyd Barrett raised an issue with me prior to the commencement of the debate on this Bill and I have already communicated the fact that this must be examined thoroughly because it is totally unacceptable. I have no problem with charitable organisations and as Deputy Dooley has pointed out, there are provisions in this Bill to deal with the matter raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett. However, we cannot wait for the passing of this Bill before dealing with the single isolated issue referred to by the Deputy. It must be dealt with immediately, if what the Deputy has said is actually the case. Indeed, I accept the Deputy's bona fides on this. Many charitable organisations across the country do fantastic work, through the provision of cancer cars, cancer buses and many other forms of transport. They do brilliant work which is absolutely not for profit. That work is clearly defined but if a charitable body is advertising in direct competition with taxis, that is a totally different matter and must be dealt with. I give the Deputy my word that the issue will be investigated.

The broader issue of catering for those with disabilities is something to which I am absolutely committed. The Deputies are correct about the fact that the number of WAVs, or wheelchair-accessible vehicles, has dropped. I cannot tolerate the fact that some people obtain these licences and then use them as a mechanism for bringing the golf boys off to Dublin Airport. Then, when somebody who genuinely needs a wheelchair accessible taxi tries to order one, he or she cannot get one. Everyone in the House would condemn that because it is unacceptable. I am taking a number of actions to deal with this problem.

I was very impressed by a chap called Stephen Cluskey who set up his own website dealing with access to wheelchair-accessible taxis and have appointed him to the taxi committee. He is an excellent young man. I am currently working with the NTA to ensure that there is a single dispatch number for wheelchair-accessible taxis across the entire country. In that way, those who look for such a taxi will be able to use a single number to identify the wheelchair-accessible taxis that are available in their own area to take them wherever they want to go. Those drivers who refuse on numerous occasions to take passengers with disabilities will be dealt with through this legislation because that is unacceptable.

The Minister of State is doing well.

A compliment from Deputy Boyd Barrett is worth it.

I welcome his commitments to take action in this area. However, given what he has just said, I cannot see any difficulty with his accepting this amendment. The provision rightly states “to promote access to and the availability and affordability of small public service vehicles by persons with disabilities”. Amendment No. 6 proposes to insert an explicit reference to the need to support and facilitate drivers to provide such a service. This support could include changing specifications but would have to involve some incentive, grant, or, as has been suggested, exemption from vehicle registration tax, VRT. I cannot see why the Minister will not accept my amendment.

The only reason this amendment cannot be accepted is that it makes a commitment from a financial point of view. I am working to ensure that what is proposed in the amendment happens. Section 19(2) states the authority will:

... promote the development of high quality cost effective services by small public service vehicles and their drivers which meet a wide range of customer needs including those of passengers with mobility or sensory impairments;

[...] promote access to and the availability and affordability of small public service vehicles by persons with disabilities;

[...] encourage investment to support and enhance the services offered by small public service vehicles and to promote innovation in this regard.

The amendment’s proposal is already covered in this legislation.

There are other pieces to this jigsaw. The Deputy referred to bringing down the cost of wheelchair-accessible taxis. This is not covered by this legislation but there may be other avenues through which we can bring down these costs. I am committed to bringing all the jigsaw pieces together. I demonstrated my commitment already through changes I have made to the taxi advisory committee.

I support the Minister. He acknowledges there is a difficulty with wheelchair-accessible taxis and he is right to focus on the issue of specifications, as there seems to be over-regulation in this area.

In many rural areas it is next to impossible to get a wheelchair-accessible taxi. Due to the closure of our small hospitals, a fact that the Minister knows well-----

Nenagh has a fine hospital.

-----and the centralisation of health services in regional centres, older people and those with mobility difficulties have to travel long distances to access outpatient and inpatient services. Ambulance services and the supplementary welfare system have withdrawn their support in providing such transport. People are forced to use private transport to get to these appointments - namely, taxis. The Minister has hit the nail on the head in saying that the issue of the specifications of wheelchair-accessible taxis needs to be urgently addressed. Will he consider the proposal concerning VRT exemption and discuss it with the Minister for Finance? Such an exemption would take pressure off wheelchair users in having to look for the tax relief for themselves and it may be cost-neutral to the Exchequer.

I do not see the problem the Minister has with accepting this amendment. It is not too prescriptive.

It is not just about the drivers; it is about the vehicles as well.

The specification states that the taxi should have the capacity for a wheelchair plus three people. There needs to be some flexibility in this regard. It is not just about the driver but the car as well.

I accept that, but this amendment has a legitimate point about supporting drivers who want to provide an accessible service. This is a reasonable amendment that does not run counter to what the Minister has said.

The Minister has indicated changes to the specifications for wheelchair-accessible taxis. Any time we hear this, it means it will cost more. The Minister of State should discuss the VRT exemption proposal with the Minister for Finance. Extra costs have been put on the whole industry.

Even now, anyone getting into the industry must have a car that is one to three years old, and then must change the car after nine years. There are huge costs and this specification will add more costs. While I accept the argument that we need a proper fleet that is wheelchair accessible, there must be a way of making it viable for people to do it.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 43; Níl, 74.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Catherine Murphy; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 7 has been ruled out of order. We will move on to amendment No. 8.

Amendment No. 7 not moved.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 25, to delete lines 7 and 8.

I do not intend to accept this amendment. As detailed on Committee Stage, this provision under section 20(1) of the Bill enables the NTA to make regulations concerning standards of conduct, general behaviour, deportment or dress of persons operating SPSVs. This is a restatement and clarification of the existing provision under section 34(6) of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003, providing that the authority can specify conditions and requirements for SPSV drivers in regard to their dress code. Regulations made in this area can only improve and promote the standards of professionalism in the industry. As with all of the powers conferred on the NTA, it is incumbent on it to ensure that these powers are exercised in a reasonable manner. I assure the Deputy that this in no way means that the NTA is going to start telling taxi drivers that they must wear a certain uniform.

I am glad to hear the Minister of State has made it clear there will be no such thing as an obligatory dress code in the future, as feared. The regulations have meant that vehicles have been brought to a certain standard, but drivers look after themselves and dress in a proper fashion. Any taxi drivers I have ever met have always reached a high standard. There was a fear we would impose this and I am glad the Minister of State has reiterated the position. I would have liked to see the issue of a dress code removed from the Bill, but I will not press the issue or call for an elaboration of the regulation or for it to be made clear that there will be no call for a uniform or emblem drivers must wear.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 25, after line 38, to insert the following:

“(5) The Authority, in making regulations under this section, shall take into consideration the potential impact of any proposed regulation on the provision of services in rural areas and on rural dwellers.”.

The reason I have tabled this amendment is that every now and again we come across regulations that make a lot of sense in Dublin City but make very little sense in rural Ireland. In this regard, there is an issue in regard to wheelchair accessible taxis. The provision in the regulations is that a vehicle applying for a renewal of a licence may be no more than ten years old. The difficulty is that in rural Ireland a huge investment is required in the purchase of such vehicles and in having them adapted for wheelchair users. However, because there are not huge numbers of people using these accessible taxis, it takes far longer to get a return on that expense.

I know it is up to 15 years for existing vehicles, but this will be reduced to ten. We need more flexibility in dealing with the situation in rural Ireland such that when general regulations are drafted, not only for wheelchair accessible taxis, the regulator will not only consider the implications in the city centre of Dublin, Cork or Galway but also in provincial and rural towns. There is a feeling among taxi drivers that their voice is not being articulated. In my county taxi drivers hold a licence covering Roscommon and Galway, but we want wheelchair accessible taxis in Roscommon which is a very large, rural county. It is the same with regard to other issues which arise. When regulations for the entire country are introduced, the regulator should be conscious of, and take into account, the fact that in some instances what is applicable in Dublin city centre is not necessarily applicable in rural Ireland. I ask for this to be taken into account and written into the legislation that these issues are weighed. In other words, regulations to be introduced should be rural proofed.

While I will not accept the amendment, I am in full agreement with the principle behind it, which is concerned with transport needs in rural areas and the transport requirements of rural dwellers. No other Minister or Minister of State who dealt with the taxi industry kept referring to the fact that we must regulate it for the entire country. What applies in Dublin does not apply anywhere else, not even in Cork which has its own urban issues, or in Limerick. Specific issues arise in Dublin. Completely opposite issues arise in rural Ireland where there is market failure, which is why this legislation contains provision to ensure we will have other forms of licences such as the rural hackney licence, to which I have referred. The reason I did not accept earlier amendments on part-time drivers is that anyone driving in rural Ireland is a part-time driver. For this reason, I accept the Deputy's bona fides, but the objectives of the NTA in carrying out its functions under section 19 are intended to be fulfilled on a State-wide basis.

I have the benefit of having spent almost 15 years of my life in urban settings, but being a good rural Tipperary man, I understand thoroughly the issues from a rural perspective. I assure the Deputy there are sufficient provisions under section 20(2) to allow the authority to make regulatory provisions to meet different circumstances and areas of the State, including specific provision for rural transport, in which I know he has a keen interest. For example, this provision will allow the NTA to make regulations for any specific SPSV requirement necessary to facilitate the aforementioned rural hackney licence. Therefore, I cannot see a need to make such additional provisions in the Bill which certainly covers the requirements of the Deputy. It covers the requirements of rural dwellers and allows flexibility in creating new licences, dealing with the issue of community cars and dealing with voluntary, community and charitable groups which needed to be cleaned up. I thank the Deputy for his contribution, but I do not believe the amendment is necessary.

I sympathise with the thrust of the amendment. As I indicated, the reason I did not press the issue of full-time taxi drivers is there is a legitimate point on rural areas where the scenario is different and the Minister of State accepts this point. In this context, I wish to raise another issue which points a little in the other direction. It does not counter what Deputy Denis Naughten stated, with which I agree and support, but there are suggestions, reports and anecdotal evidence that some transport services which benefit from the rural transport scheme use these supports to make incursions into urban areas. I do not know whether this is true. I have not seen the hard evidence, but I have heard reports that people operating services and competing with taxis in urban areas benefit from grants under the rural transport scheme. Will the Minister of State examine this issue and see whether there is evidence that this might be the case, which would obviously be an abuse of the supports and unfair to taxi drivers in urban areas? Setting this point aside, I believe Deputy Denis Naughten's amendment is reasonable with regard to other matters with which the Bill is trying to deal.

Rural people are not forgotten. We have been making the argument that in rural areas there are different circumstances. I wish to ask the Minister of State about his plans to introduce a third licence in rural areas. There is a concern that taxi and hackney drivers will lose out as a result of the introduction of the third licence. Will the Minister of State explain whether they will be affected and, if so, how? People in certain towns throughout the country have been involved in the industry for many years. What effect will this have and what is the purpose behind it?

I thank the Minister of State for his response and accept his bona fides on the initiatives for rural Ireland. He is correct that there is a deficit, but whatever measures are introduced, it is important, as articulated, that they do not undermine those providing services in provincial towns. I know it is a fine line and that it is a very difficult call. The Minister of State could end up with a significant problem, but in fairness to him, he is conscious of the issue. I hope any rural initiative will be designed in such a way that it will not undermine existing taxi services in provincial towns. If a system is put in place and all of a sudden an ill-considered approach is taken by the regulator which overnight would make it unviable to operate taxis in some provincial towns, we could have market failure again. There is a concern among taxi drivers in some of the smaller towns that their voice is not being heard to the same extent as that of the industry as a whole. I ask the Minister of State to make provision in the legislation in this regard. I accept the point he made and will not press the amendment, but I ask for consideration to be given to this issue at this stage or in the future.

I accept the Deputy's bona fides and understand what he is trying to get across. The issue is that we have market failure in rural areas. There is market failure where I live and we need to deal with this issue. I must be a Minister of State for all of the country, not just for Dublin, Cork or rural towns. I must try to ensure a provision of service. I also have responsibility for rural transport services. At times these issues interlock, as in the case of community cars and rural bus services. We must try to ensure there is coverage and that everyone can expect to operate in a regulated framework such that they know how it works and are allowed to earn a fair living and do their job properly.

The objective of the local area hackney licence is to facilitate low-cost entry to the market in areas with no services. I wish to outline the features of the licence to the Deputy. The area of operation will be limited. It will have to be validated by a local community or business organisation. There will be a low entry cost for operators. Drivers in the area will have to be identified but will not have to sit an area knowledge test. Drivers will not be allowed to ply for hire at taxi ranks. These cars will not be able to do the job of taxis in towns. It is as simple as that.

On the basis of the Minister of State's response, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Debate adjourned.