I met delegates from four taxi representative groups the week before last. It was a useful and productive meeting at which I had an opportunity to hear about the impact of Covid-19 on the taxi industry and the representatives' proposals as to how the industry can best be supported through this difficult time. I undertook to meet representatives again in the near future once I had an opportunity to consider fully these issues with my Department and the NTA. I confirm that I intend following through on that commitment as soon as possible.
I have no plans to dissolve the advisory committee on small public service vehicles, sometimes known as the taxi advisory committee, at this time. This is because the committee has played an important role in advising my Department and the NTA on the issues facing the industry and on how to assist it through the pandemic and ensure its future sustainability. In July, following a request from my predecessor, the then Minister, Shane Ross, the committee submitted a report with several recommendations. Since then, my Department has worked with the committee to examine how these can be addressed. We have shared the report with other Departments and it has served as a useful basis for engagement to ensure that small public service vehicle, SPSV, operators, many of whom are self-employed, are able to access to the greatest extent possible the range of measures the Government has introduced to support businesses through these difficult circumstances.
The advisory committee, which was established under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, enjoys a broad membership, with members representing driver interests, dispatch operators, passenger interests and official stakeholders such as local government and An Garda Síochána. This diversity of representation, combined with members' commitment to having a well-functioning and effective SPSV sector, is a real strength of the committee. My Department will continue to engage from time to time with stakeholder groups, including driver representative groups, but the advisory committee has been and will remain the central focus of engagement with the SPSV sector regarding issues affecting the sector. In addition, the NTA, as statutory regulator for the sector, will continue to engage with the industry and communicate regularly with individual SPSV operators regarding the impact of Covid.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
I note that the issue of age limits for taxis is a matter for the industry regulator, that is, the NTA. I remind the House that the NTA has already extended age limits for vehicles that were due to reach the limit between March 2020 and the end of the year. This regulatory change by the NTA means that since the start of the pandemic no operator has needed to replace his or her vehicle due to vehicle age limits.
I understand the NTA will continue to monitor the situation and will consider the need for any further extension later this year. This is a proportionate and reasonable approach that allows for appropriate and timely decisions to be taken in response to the prevailing circumstances. Of course, these vehicle age limits exist in the first place because the regulator recognises that newer vehicles are generally safer, more comfortable for passengers and more environmentally friendly. Therefore, we can expect any further extension of vehicle age limits to be targeted and limited, balancing the interests of SPSV operators and the wider public and passenger interest. This Government has committed to continue supporting the greening of the taxi fleet and will continue to provide financial assistance to drivers to switch to battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. My Department has several specific initiatives to encourage the movement away from fossil fuels in the small public service vehicle sector. As such, I would not favour a blanket extension of age limits of the type sought by taxi representatives as it would conflict with these important priorities.
I know that some taxi representative groups have called for a moratorium on the issuance of new SPSV licences. Current demand for new taxi licences has collapsed to a small fraction of previous application levels and as such it is not clear how preventing new applications would assist the industry through its current difficulties. In any event, for the past two decades the Government has not exercised quantitative controls on the issuance of taxi licences. Prior to the abolition of those controls, the country, and Dublin in particular, suffered from a chronic undersupply of taxis. The abolition of the controls was necessary to address these supply issues. Over the past two decades, this policy has served passengers well. As I do not believe passenger interests would be served by the reintroduction of quantitative controls, I do not favour imposing a moratorium on the issuance of SPSV licences at this time. When I met taxi driver representatives, they outlined a type of buy-back scheme for taxi licences but, in view of the fact that there are no quantitative controls on entry into the SPSV industry, I do not see a basis for such a scheme.