Recognising that this question is identical to an earlier question from Deputy Richard Boyd Barret, I would like to thank the Deputy for giving me an additional opportunity to discuss the important issues raised by taxi representative groups and the issues facing the small public service vehicle industry as a result of COVID-19.
As mentioned in my earlier response, I had a useful meeting with representatives from four taxi representative groups the week before last. It was a fruitful and productive meeting which facilitated a useful exchange of views and ideas and I look forward to meeting with them in the near future once I have had an opportunity to fully consider these issues with officials in my Department. Nonetheless, I remain of the view that meetings with such groups can complement engagement with the Advisory Committee for Small Public Service Vehicles, but should not substitute for engagement with the Committee. That statutory Committee has an important role to play and I therefore do not favour its abolition.
The small public service vehicle industry is a diverse one, featuring taxis, which are predominantly based in urban areas, hackneys and local area hackneys which tend to provide services in more rural areas, and limousines which are often particularly geared towards overseas tourism and special events like weddings and funerals. Given this range of services it is only fitting that this diverse industry is represented by a body such as the Advisory Committee which enjoys a broad membership which can represent the diversity of service providers, service users, and other stakeholders.
To date, membership of the Committee has been somewhat Dublin-centric. This is perhaps understandable given that most of the meetings of the Committee were held in Dublin. However, the onset of COVID-19 has meant that, like many State Boards and Advisory Committees, meetings have shifted online. This, I believe, creates an opportunity to secure broader participation in bodies of this nature than may have been possible previously. As the Deputy may be aware, two vacancies recently arose on the Committee. These vacancies, combined with a further three vacancies which the Committee had been carrying pre-pandemic, provide me with an opportunity to try to secure greater representation from rural and remote parts of Ireland. A recruitment campaign for the Committee will shortly commence and I will be actively seeking new members from other parts of the country to ensure the Committee has an appropriate geographic spread of perspectives. As a means of securing further balance in terms of the range of representation on the Committee, I will be encouraging applications from individuals who are hackney operators and limousine operators as part of this forthcoming campaign.
In relation to vehicle age limits, as I mentioned in my earlier response, this is a matter for the NTA as the statutory regulator. I would like to remind the House that, for vehicles that were due to reach the age limit from March onward, the NTA has already provided an extension until the end of the year. This means that no operator has needed to replace their vehicle due to the vehicle age limit rule since the start of the pandemic. However, while the NTA will consider further limited extensions later in the year, it will not enact the kind of blanket extension of age limits of the type proposed by taxi representatives. This Government is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the national SPSV fleet and a blanket extension of age limits would undermine these efforts. My Department has a number of specific initiatives to encourage the movement away from fossil fuels in the small public service vehicle sector.
The Electric Small Public Service Vehicle (eSPSV) Grant Scheme offers up to €10,000 towards the purchase of an electric small public service vehicle, and a further €2,500 towards its conversion to a wheelchair accessible vehicle. To date almost 90 electric taxis have been purchased under this Scheme, converting mostly from diesel models to zero-tailpipe battery electric alternates.
The eSPSV Charger Project which will see the installation of SPSV-dedicated EV chargers at Dublin and Cork Airports as well as in train stations in Dublin (Heuston), Limerick (Colbert) and Cork (Kent). This project is funded from ring-fenced revenue arising from the increase in carbon tax following Budget 2020, and it is expected that the chargers will be installed by the end of the year and operational from early 2021.
As I mentioned in my earlier response, I do not believe the reintroduction of quantitative limits on SPSV licences by Government would serve the wider public interest and therefore I do not plan to implement a moratorium on the issuance of SPSV licences at this time. The present SPSV licensing system is built upon the principle that the purpose of a licence is to indicate a person’s suitability to carry out a function and to ensure that the holder of a licence is subject to lawful conditions and restrictions. As such, a licence should not have, by association, a monetary value or be tradable on the open market. Accordingly, there is no basis for a "buy back" scheme of the type outlined by the Deputy in his question.