It is complaints about taxis. We have four categories of complaints, as can be seen on page 20. The four categories are outlined under the Taxi Regulation Act and are: condition and cleanliness; conduct and behaviour; overcharging; and matters relating to hiring. Pages 18 and 19 provide the breakdown of the various counties and the percentages of complaints we received in those counties. Page 20 shows the total number of complaints over the two years. There were 763 complaints in 2007 and to the end of November 2008, we have received 551 complaints.
Page 21 deals with the commission enforcement operations by county for 2007. By mid-2007, our enforcement team of nine, plus the head of enforcement, were fully trained and operational. This page shows the enforcement activity nationally in 2007. This is the first time this country has had a dedicated team of enforcement officers for the SPSV industry. Gardaí are also authorised officers under the Taxi Regulation Act. We work closely with the Garda and with PSV inspectors in the Garda divisional areas to ensure active enforcement in the industry.
Page 22 shows commission enforcement operations by county for 2008. Some of these, as can be seen, were joint operations with gardaí. Those indicated in red are ones where we had joint operations with gardaí and those in black were conducted by our enforcement team alone. Ongoing operations continue weekly in Dublin.
Pages 23 to 25 outline the fixed charge offences under our legislation and a number of fixed charge penalties issued for offences detected in 2007 and 2008. These pages show the offences and provide the geographical spread. The record of these fixed charge offences commenced in 2007 and continued throughout 2008.
Page 26 outlines details of prosecutions that were undertaken during the second half of 2007 following the recruitment of our enforcement team and the detection of offences. The result of the prosecution and the costs awarded are shown there. As can be seen, there were more charges than prosecutions. This was because some of the summonses issued had more than one charge.
Page 28 shows there was a large number of commission prosecutions in 2008. A total of 113 prosecutions were taken, with a success rate of 92%. This highlights the 105 prosecutions outlined. The majority of the prosecutions were concerned with vehicle and driver licensing. I stress, however, that these were primarily licence holders who allowed their licences to expire but continued to operate while they were expired. A small handful of prosecutions were taken where people had either no vehicle or no driver licence.
Pages 28 and 29 outline the number of calls the commission receives. We have a consumer line and an information line for the industry. We received in excess of 82,000 calls in 2007 and up to the end of November 2008, we received in excess of 59,000 calls. The majority of those came from the industry and the topics raised are outlined on the two slides.
Page 30 shows the result of some consumer research we carried out in August. We had undertaken some consumer research in April, the feedback of which showed the service was very good and there were plenty of taxis available when people wanted them. We did some further research in August and November and the same pattern continued. The key findings are listed on the right hand side of this page. As there are a number of industry bodies represented at this meeting, we carried out some further research in Galway, Dublin and Cork last week. The research carried out in these cities last week showed a good availability of taxis and short waiting times in both Dublin and Galway. However, in Cork there were a number of times when no taxis were available.
Page 31 shows information on international taxi use. A French researcher conducted research of taxi users and non-taxi users in the cities shown on the slide. In Paris, he found it very difficult to meet his quota of taxi users, while in Dublin he found it very difficult to meet his quota of non-taxi users. The message is not just related to the number of cabs per head of population but also to consumer demand for services. While the number of licences has increased, supply cannot be assumed to have increased in direct line with the number of licences, as not all operators operate a full-time service. It is a 24-hour service, 365 days a year.
I refer to page 32 of the submission on which we describe some research we undertook with dispatch operators since I was last here. A high percentage of business organisations use dispatch operators in booking small public service vehicle services. On page 33 we set out the information which the commission supplies to both the consumer and the industry. The page contains a list which outlines both sides.
My role as commissioner is to ensure high quality standards and service are provided by the industry. On a point of clarification, I do not have the power to introduce quantitative restrictions in what has been a liberalised market since 2000. Any change in policy is a matter for the Minister for Transport and the Government. The commission will continue to raise the quality standards and services provided by the industry and consult the industry in advance of any proposed changes to standards. Improved quality and increased professionalism in the industry, together with adequate enforcement of regulations, are necessary to bring about a high, consistent standard. We will also be putting in place a quality assurance scheme mark for high quality vehicles, drivers and booking provisions.
A key message delivered by a number of countries at the international taxi forum in Cologne in Germany which I attended in November was that while increasing numbers of taxis was the main problem following deregulation in a number of countries, the way forward was to ensure high quality standards and services and training for drivers.
I thank committee members for their attention. I will be happy to take questions. The first issue raised by the committee had to do with taxi ranks. The commission is engaged in a tendering process for consultants to develop guidelines for local authorities on best practice in the provision of taxi ranks incorporating accessibility on a nationwide basis. The commission is aware that a number of local authorities are considering the dual use of loading bays and bus stops as temporary taxi ranks. In principle, these would retain their loading bay or bus stop functions during the day and early evening and would then be designated as night-time stands when they would otherwise be unused. The commission supports this proposal and will continue discussions with local authorities on this initiative. Initially it appears to be an attractive compromise, as it would create additional rank space at popular times at many locations, albeit not all, without the traditional loss of on-street parking revenue associated with 24-hour taxi rank provision. We have so far received a very positive response from local authorities and will continue to work closely with them to try to ensure the possible use of loading bays and bus stops.
The second point raised is probably one on which the committee may wish to ask the Garda Síochána to comment but I will certainly do so. It relates to enforcement officers to be assigned to each Garda division. All members of the Garda Síochána are authorised officers under the Taxi Regulation Act. The commission works closely with the Garda in joint operations and each Garda division has PSV inspectors who are very active in enforcement in the SPSV industry and also co-operate with the commission's enforcement officers. The Garda Síochána has a complement of officers in the Carriage Office in Dublin. There are two PSV inspectors in Galway and three in Cork.
The third point raised is related to insurance certificates. A valid insurance certificate covering the risk associated with small public service vehicles is required for a vehicle licence. The application form for a small public service vehicle licence also requires a declaration to be signed by the applicant confirming that the insurance will remain valid for the duration of the licence. I have written to the Irish Insurance Federation and the insurance companies to follow up on any anecdotal evidence on policies being cancelled. We have requested that any details of any cancellation of policies for small public service vehicles be forwarded to the commission. However, this may have data protection issues which we will be following up with the Irish Insurance Federation. It is an offence to drive any vehicle without the relevant insurance certificate.
The next matter on my list is the licensing numbering system. The commission introduced a new national vehicle licensing numbering system in 2006 following public consultation and advice from the advisory council on which the taxi representatives are also represented. It replaces the old numbering system under which there was a replication of numbers across local authorities. All numbers have been replaced by a five-digit number. The old identification number identified the local authority area in which the vehicle was licensed to ply or stand for hire. There is now a national taxi meter area with one licensing authority and vehicles can travel anywhere in the country.
In addition to the taxi roof sign, the system also introduced for the first time a requirement to display a disc on the front and rear windows of the vehicle licensed indicating the licence number, the registration number of the vehicle, the number of passengers it is licensed to carry and also the expiry date. This ensures consumers can be confident they are travelling in a licensed taxi. However, the driver can only ply or stand for hire in the area where his or her driver licence is issued by the Garda Síochána. The new driver identification system introduced by the commission identifies the driver and where he or she is licensed to ply or stand for hire. This is the first time there has been a consistent national driver ID which is displayed on the dashboard of every vehicle with a picture of the driver, his or her number and also the expiry date. The area in which the driver is licensed to stand or ply for hire is clearly displayed facing towards the windscreen. This should promote consumer safety and confidence which, in turn, will increase the use of small public service vehicles. The commission has highlighted these new consumer-friendly features in advertising campaigns to promote the use of small public service vehicles.
I will show the committee a taxi disc. There is a different colour for hackneys and limousines. This is placed on the front and rear windows of all vehicles. It shows the licence number, the registration number, the licensed number of passengers permitted and the expiry date. It is visible to the passenger on the inside both on the front windscreen and the rear window. These are the security features which include a new driver ID. When the driver licence is granted by the Garda Síochána, the details are passed to the commission. We enter the details in our database and then issue the driver licence identification to the driver concerned. Inside facing the passenger is a picture of the driver, the license number and the expiry date. Facing towards the windscreen is information on where the driver is licensed to ply or stand for hire. It is important to note that it indicates where the driver is licensed to ply or stand for hire rather than the vehicle because the vehicle can travel anywhere in the country. They are also issued with a smart card similar to a credit card which has security features. This can be requested by our enforcement officers at particular ranks to be checked with hand-held devices. For the first time since the introduction of the new licensing system in-vehicle information in all vehicles must be displayed such as the rights and responsibilities of drivers and consumers and the national maximum taxi fare. This is displayed in the front and rear of the vehicle. In April this year new colour coded discs for hackneys and limousines were introduced in order that from an enforcement perspective the difference between the three vehicles can be easily identified. By April 2009, all hackneys and limousines will have the coloured discs.
The next issue concerns whether new applicants with foreign driver licences should be required to undergo the normal test to acquire an Irish driving licence. By regulation this country is obliged to recognise a driving licence from EU, EEA or other recognised states on foot of reciprocal arrangements. The regulation which permits recognition of driving licences outside the jurisdiction is Regulation 37 of Statutory Instrument 352 of 1999 as being the equivalent of our national driving licence. Under the regulation, the Minister has to declare that persons from certain countries are recognised to drive in this country under the driving licence issued in his or her own country. The holder of a driver licence issued by the competent authority of another member state of the European Union or the EEA may drive in Ireland for the duration of the validity of that licence. However, he or she may exchange it for an Irish equivalent licence if he or she so chooses. The recognised states are Australia, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Japan, Jersey, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland and Guernsey which have been designated for the purposes of driving licence exchange, with the member states of the European Union and the EEA. Therefore, the commission or the Garda Síochána cannot put regulations in place to require foreign drivers to undergo the normal test to acquire an Irish driving licence.
On the matter of the new criteria for examination for a new taxi licence, we will be replacing the Garda test in consultation with the Garda Síochána. The new skills development programme will replace it. The skills development programme is in development at the moment. It will be ready early in the new year and we will roll it out early in the summer. We will pilot test it with the Garda at that stage.
A small public service vehicle licence holder can relinquish his or her vehicle licence to the commission. However, as a taxi licence is transferable — in my earlier presentation I discussed the consultation process regarding transferability and the reasons the industry requested no change — licence holders, therefore, can advertise them. This has long been the practice prior to liberalisation and has continued since then.
On the introduction of a moratorium on issuing taxi licences, as outlined in the presentation there has been a decrease in the applications for new licences. Any change in policy to introduce restrictions on the number of licences is a matter for the Minister. The commission will continue to raise the quality and standards of services provided by the industry, which will ensure that all vehicles and drivers reach consistently high quality standards. Demand, as well as supply, must be considered. The result of the economic review that has been undertaken by the commission will address supply, demand, industry earnings and the shaping of the industry since liberalisation. It would, therefore, be premature for me to comment at this stage on a moratorium.