The first recommendation was for legislation to be introduced to provide for the introduction of a three-year moratorium on the issue of taxi licences, with the exception of the provision of wheelchair accessible taxis. The commission's view is that it is clear from the economic review that a moratorium would be anti-competitive in a liberalised market. In a highly competitive market, the appropriate level of cabs is left to the market. There was a sharp decline in the number of new entrants since the middle of 2008, with a further decline in 2009.
In the commission's recent announcement of new reforms, wheelchair accessible licences only will issue to meet the commission's objective to increase the wheelchair accessible fleet. However, this is not a moratorium, as we are introducing a new category of wheelchair accessible hackney licence, thereby increasing capacity and allowing equal access to services by all consumers. This will increase the wheelchair accessible fleet and will provide a new high quality vehicle to all consumers.
The second recommendation was that the Minister's proposal to subsume the Commission for Taxi Regulation into the Dublin Transportation Office be implemented immediately. The commission's view is that it is a matter for the Minister to commence this. The commission is of the view that the immediate incorporation into the new national transport authority will be at a considerable cost, bearing in mind the set up costs of the commission over the last number of years. Having said that, when the national transport authority is established, the commission will work with the authority to effect any incorporation at best value.
In view of the inadequacy of taxi ranks in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, the committee proposes that the taxi regulator establish a number of extra taxi ranks to be provided in each city in 2009 and 2010, and require those additional taxi ranks to be provided by the relevant local authorities. The commission is of the view that this responsibility continues to be with the local authorities. The commission can provide guidelines to local authorities and is currently in the process of a project for the development of guidelines to assist local authorities in the planning of taxi ranks in Irish towns, cities and counties, incorporating accessibility.
The guidelines do not dictate the number of taxi ranks that should be allocated per area. To assess taxi rank provision in light of the estimated number of SPSV licences operational in an area is too narrow an approach to taxi planning. However, if we are to deliver a fully integrated transport system, then taxi rank provision must form an integral part of the overall transport system which incorporates all transport modes operational in a particular area.
The project involves the following phases: consultation with town and county councils to gain an in-depth understanding of the current situation regarding taxi rank provision in their areas; the development of a taxi rank model and draft guidelines; and a review of an application of the model to case study locations. The current case studies are in Galway, Cork and Waterford. The consultation will continue with local authorities and other interested parties before we issue the draft guidelines and the final guidelines.
It is important to note that there is a methodology for assessing and forecasting the need for taxi ranks in any large regional city, after which we must develop a business case for additional ranks which includes a calculation of the cost-benefit analysis by stand location and guidance on best practice in regard to the construction of taxi ranks, with a particular emphasis on accessibility.
The fourth recommendation was that the Garda authorities be given responsibility for enforcement of taxi driver licensing in association with the taxi regulator and that a senior garda be assigned to this role in each Garda division. We have already indicated that with only nine enforcers, we do not have sufficient resources to monitor the situation properly. However, it is important to note that gardaí are already authorised officers under the Taxi Regulation Act and work closely with the commission in the enforcement of small public service vehicle regulations, including joint operations with the commission's enforcement team. There are also dedicated public service vehicle inspectors in each county.
The next recommendation was that insurance certificates be checked in real time to rule out the presentation of fraudulent certificates. Under small public service vehicle regulations, applicants must have a current insurance certificate when applying for or renewing a vehicle licence. As part of the current review, the commission will work with the Irish Insurance Federation to ensure no insurance policies can be cancelled following the granting of a licence. The commission is unaware of any fraudulent certificates being presented at the time of licensing. If an apparently fraudulent certificate were presented, the commission would immediately be notified and would initiate an investigation. All insurance certificates presented are scanned into the licensing system. It is not possible for us to validate each insurance certificate with an insurance company at the time of licensing. Rather, it is up to the licence holder to declare that the details he or she is presenting are correct. Incidentally, for the purposes of motor tax, for example, it is no longer required that an applicant provide an insurance certificate. He or she is simply required to declare that the details given are correct.
The sixth recommendation was that the new national licensing system introduced in 2006, which gives each licence holder a unique five-digit licence number, should include the city of issue. The entire country is now designated as a national taxi meter area, which means a taxi can travel anywhere in the country. However, taxi drivers can only stand or ply for hire within the boundaries of the licensing authority. The details of this criterion are clearly displayed on the dashboard of every taxi as part of the driver identification. The current review process will include an examination of taxi roof signs. In the last week we have indicated to the representative bodies how we propose to move forward on the issue of driver identification. Taxis could always travel anywhere in the country, even when the city of issue was displayed on the roof sign, but at that time, once the car travelled outside the taxi meter area, it became a private hire vehicle. We are looking at new ways of identifying drivers from the perspective of vehicles travelling beyond the remit of the licensing authority.
The seventh recommendation was that an authorised company should supply taxi and hackney plates and roof signs with a security code to ensure they cannot be copied and can be offered only by NCT centres. We have checked our legal position in this regard and have concluded that the commission is not in a position to regulate commercial sign writers. However, as I have said, we will investigate how to improve taxi roof signage as part of the current review and we have already put forward several proposals in this regard to the national representative bodies. The latter are considering those at present and will get back to us soon.
The eighth recommendation was that new applicants be required to undergo testing equal to or exceeding the standard required to acquire an Irish driving licence. New applicants must undergo the commission's skills development programme which was introduced in May 2009. Moreover, a full driving licence is part of the process to acquire a small public service vehicle driving licence from the Garda Síochána. All applicants are subject to the same licensing process and an applicant for a small public service vehicle driving licence must hold a full driving licence from either Ireland, the European Union, the European Economic Area or any other recognised state. The skills development programme covers such issues as the rules to operate in the industry, vehicle standards, area knowledge, customer service, good business practice, and health and safety. The test is administered by Prometric Ireland Limited, an expert in this field, which also carries out the driver theory test on behalf of the Road Safety Authority.
The ninth recommendation was to improve further the standard of service delivered by including a formal interview and a test of proficiency in Irish or English as part of the examination process. Realistically, we do not have the resources to include a formal interview as part of the examination process, but we have ensured the skills development programme test is in English and is also being developed in Irish. Therefore, a person must have a good command of either language to read the manual and pass the test. The test incorporates a large bank of questions and varies for each applicant.
The tenth recommendation was that taxi drivers who wish to relinquish their plates should be obliged to return them to the taxi regulator at the purchase price, thus eliminating the practice of reselling through newspapers and so on. The commission does not have the power to purchase taxi licences. However, as part of the reform process, we are changing the rules regarding transferability of licences such that new licences will be non-transferable and current licences will be transferable on only one further occasion. There is no precedent in the history of the State for the buying back of licences issued by a licensing authority on behalf of the State. It is not an inherent or ordinary entitlement of any such authority. Moreover, in the current climate, it is unlikely the Departments of Finance and Transport would have the appetite for such an initiative.
The 11th recommendation was that the practice of renting or leasing licences should be discontinued with the exception of car replacements. Multiple licence holders have reminded us, through the consultation process, that they have made a considerable investment in the industry through fleets of vehicles providing services to consumers and providing employment to drivers. Regulations are in place to ensure those who rent or lease licences or licensed vehicles require drivers to be adequately insured and licensed to drive those vehicles. Multiple licence holders are obliged to keep records and to provide those records to the commission on request. As part of the current review, the commission is considering further reforms, including the feasibility of a fleet licence. The feedback from the industry through the consultation process was that the renting or leasing of licences should continue for various reasons. For example, where a person is ill, it is important that he or she be able to employ another person to operate the vehicle and thus retain some earning capacity. Where a licence holder dies, his or her spouse can be assured of a continued income by arranging for another person to operate the vehicle. The ability to rent a licence allows prospective taxi drivers to test the market and it also creates employment. Therefore, there was no appetite to discontinue the renting and leasing of licences.
I will be pleased to take questions from members.