Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Questions (79, 80, 81)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

186 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Transport his plans to introduce the promised tougher criteria for qualification for a taxi drivers licence in view of concerns that an increasing number of people with serious criminal convictions have received licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2118/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

Under existing provisions in the Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) Regulations 1963 to 2002 all applicants for licences to drive small public service vehicles, i.e. taxis, hackneys and limousines, must satisfy the Garda Commissioner that they are a fit and proper person to hold a licence, and that they have an adequate knowledge of general traffic regulations, the regulations relating to public service vehicles and the area in which they propose to make services available as a driver of a small public service vehicle. All applicants for such licences are vetted by the Garda Síochána for the purpose of establishing if applicants are fit and proper persons to hold such licences. The Garda Commissioner may at any time revoke a licence to drive a small public service vehicle if he considers that the holder of the licence is no longer a fit and proper person to hold such a licence. It is of course open to individual licence applicants to appeal Garda decisions to refuse or revoke a licence to the courts.

Under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003, the principal function of the Commission for Taxi Regulation will be the development and maintenance of a new regulatory framework for the control and operation of small public service vehicles and their drivers. This will include the overall development and application of new standards and requirements for drivers, licence holders and for vehicles.

Pending the establishment of the commission, I have indicated to the recently established Advisory Council to the Commission that I would be interested in their advice on a range of issues including the introduction of enhanced training and knowledge requirements for existing and new small public service vehicle drivers.

Section 36 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 provides for a system of automatic disqualification from applying for or holding a small public service driver or vehicle licence in respect of persons who have been convicted of one of a range of very serious offences, including murder, manslaughter and various sexual, drug trafficking and other offences. A person who is affected by these provisions can request the courts to allow them to apply for a licence in certain restricted circumstances. In addition, where a person has been convicted of one of a number of other serious traffic offences, he or she will be disqualified from holding a licence to drive a small public service vehicle for a period additional to any driving disqualification that is applied. Section 37 of the Act also provides that the grant or renewal of licences will be subject to the production by the applicant of a tax clearance certificate.

Decisions regarding the timing of the commencement of the above sections have yet to be made having regard to the putting in place of appropriate administrative and other arrangements to facilitate their full implementation.

Question No. 187 answered with QuestionNo. 140

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

188 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport when he expects the taxi regulator will be appointed; the reason for the delay in making the appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2117/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Question:

193 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport the progress the Government is making on the commitment given at the deregulation of the Dublin taxi market that, by the end of 2003, we would begin the process of making all taxis wheelchair accessible; the talks that have taken place with interested parties in this area; the current status of the proposed Taxi Advisory Council and the taxi regulator; who will be ultimately responsible for deciding the means to be used to achieve this Government's commitment on taxi accessibility; and the projected timetable for such a decision to be taken. [2159/04]

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I propose to take Questions Nos. 188 and 193 together.

The Taxi Regulation Act 2003 was enacted in July 2003 to provide a legislative basis for the establishment of a Commission for Taxi Regulation and an Advisory Council to the Commission for Taxi Regulation. Section 14 of the Act requires that the Commissioner for Taxi Regulation must be selected by open recruitment competition held by the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission.

Following a competition for the post of Taxi Commissioner in 2003, the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission was unable to recommend a candidate for appointment. Arrangements are currently being made to hold a further recruitment competition on the basis of an enhanced salary for the position. I understand that the post will be advertised in the national newspapers in the near future.

With regard to the Advisory Council to the Commission for Taxi Regulation, I have made an order under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 to provide for the establishment of the council with effect from 4 November 2003. I understand that the council has met on two occasions to date and a further meeting is planned later this month.

On the question of accessible taxis, the position is that the Government is committed in An Agreed Programme for Government to continue the process of making taxis wheelchair accessible. However, a number of complex issues concerning implementation of this accessible taxi policy have yet to be decided. These include improvements to the existing wheelchair accessible taxi specification to accommodate the greatest possible range of people, issues surrounding urban-rural needs and the cost of suitable vehicles. These issues will be addressed by the Commission for Taxi Regulation, when established, as part of the development of new small public service vehicle standards.

The Taxi Regulation Act 2003 specifically provides that an objective of the Commission for Taxi Regulation is to promote access to small public service vehicles by persons with disabilities. In this regard, the commission will be tasked with the determination of the future policy in relation to accessible taxis. It is envisaged that this will necessitate specific discussions with both disability and taxi representative groups. The commission will also determine the manner and time frame for the implementation of the standards for accessible taxi services.

Pending the establishment of the commission, I have indicated to the advisory council that I would be interested in its advice on a range of issues relating to quality enhancement and standards for small public service vehicles and their drivers, including vehicle standards and accessibility for persons with mobility and sensory difficulties.