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Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Questions (142)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

142. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Transport the supports he has put in place for taxi drivers while their business remains disrupted. [53499/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

I thank the Deputy for his question. I recognise that the SPSV industry has been very badly affected by COVID-19 which brought about an almost complete collapse in passenger demand for taxi and other SPSV services. However, based on figures from the National Transport Authority (NTA), I am pleased to advise that passenger demand for SPSV services is now rising as we progress through the next and final phase of the Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic: COVID-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing Our Recovery and Reconnecting. NTA figures also show a steady increase in the proportion of SPSV drivers working over the last few months: from 36% of all drivers working in January 2021 to 86% working in October 2021. I expect these trends to continue as restrictions are lifted in line with public health advice.

As the Deputy may be aware, since the start of the pandemic, the Government has put in place a series of both horizontal and industry-specific measures that can be availed of by SPSV drivers. These measures are aimed at supporting the industry through this difficult period and ensuring that drivers are well positioned to take advantage of any improvement in demand as society reopens.

In this context, I understand that as many as 70% of SPSV drivers have availed of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment which, as the Deputy will be aware, has been extended to February 2022. Self-employed SPSV operators can continue to claim the PUP and earn up to €960 in a given 8-week period, net of expenses. As society reopens and passenger demand for taxis increases, this continues to be a very important support for drivers as they return to work. Drivers coming off the PUP can avail of the COVID-19 Enterprise Support Scheme, worth up to €1,000 to meet the costs associated with returning to work.

Support for SPSV operators also continues to be available through a number of measures designed to address statutory costs faced by operators which cannot be deferred. Standard licence renewal fees for SPSVs were waived in 2021 and I can confirm that they will be waived again in 2022 at an estimated cost of €3 million. The NTA has put in place schemes to refund the Motor Tax paid by SPSV operators in the period 1 September 2021 to 31 August 2022 and to waive NCT fees for the same period. Further details on these schemes are available on the NTA website. The NTA has also extended standard age limits for taxis and hackneys several times since the start of the pandemic, and these are now waived through to the end of 2022, thereby ensuring no operator exits the industry simply because of the need to replace a vehicle.

Recognising that the replacement of a vehicle is the single largest cost faced by any SPSV operator, and in view of this Government’s commitment to support the transition of the SPSV fleet towards zero/low-emission vehicles, the funding available to the Electric SPSV (eSPSV) grant scheme was increased for 2021 to €15 million, up from €1 million. The amount payable under the scheme was also doubled to €20,000 for operators who scrap older vehicles and make the switch to full electric models. The take up rate for this scheme has been exceptionally high and the 2021 scheme recently closed to new applications following the exhaustion of this year's allocation for the scheme. Further extensions for EV schemes have, however, been recently announced under Budget 2022.

Furthermore, Microfinance Ireland announced on 9 September that a loan finance up to €25,000 is now available to support the eSPSV Grant Scheme, as many SPSV owners are finding it difficult to secure finance from banks and other commercial lending providers. Further information on this facility is available from Microfinance Ireland.

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