As the Deputy may be aware, I met with delegates from four taxi representative groups the week before last. It was a useful and productive meeting where I had an opportunity to hear about the impact of COVID-19 on the taxi industry and their proposals as to how the industry can best be supported through this difficult time
I am, of course, happy for my Department to continue to engage from time to time with any of the various with representative groups across the industry, as has been the case up to now. I also intend to meet again with taxi representatives in the near future once I have had an opportunity to fully consider these issues with my Department and the NTA. However, the Advisory Committee on SPSVs remains the primary stakeholder engagement forum for the SPSV industry. This is appropriate given its broad membership which represents a wide range of interests. It is also important to recognise the statutory basis and remit of the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles (sometimes known as the Taxi Advisory Committee) which is established under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 to advise the Minister and the NTA in relation to the SPSV industry.
The Committee meets monthly and has a broad membership, with representatives of drivers, Licenced Taxi Dispatch Operators, disabled passengers, older passengers, the tourist industry, consumer groups, local government and An Garda Síochána. Its strength comes from the diversity of voices represented all sharing the commitment to having a well-functioning, effective SPSV sector.
The Committee plays an important role advising the National Transport Authority and Minister. In that capacity, in June earlier this year, former Minister Ross invited the Committee to develop proposals on how to support the small public service vehicle industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. The proposals received in July have been an important basis for dialogue and engagement as we have sought to understand the challenges faced by the industry and how best to address their needs.
Many of the Committee’s proposals have been accepted and are in the process of being implemented. For example, the Committee recommended a review of demand for taxis be undertaken – the National Transport Authority is undertaking such a review.
The Committee also recommended that late licence renewal fees be waived - the National Transport Authority has waived those late renewal fees through to March 2021. The Committee recommended that small public service vehicle operators be able to avail of interest-free credit – operators may avail of loans with an interest-free period under the COVID-19 Business Loans Scheme.
Some proposals within the Committee’s report relate to policy areas under the remit of my Ministerial colleagues. the report has therefore served as a valuable basis for engagement by my Department with counterparts across Government, as it has worked to ensure that SPSV operators, many of whom are self-employed, are able to access the Government's range of financial support measures to the greatest extent possible.
My Department and the NTA have since briefed the Committee on two occasions, giving initial feedback to the proposals and outlining progress made on their implementation. They have also briefed the Committee on the supports available to SPSV operators under the Government's July Stimulus announcement, including outlining how self-employed SPSV drivers can access measures such as grant schemes, low interest loans, and tax relief. It is hoped that a final comprehensive response to the Committee on its proposals will be ready at the end of September. Furthermore, I expect the close co-operation with the Committee to continue for the duration of the present pandemic.