In Ireland, the carrying of passengers in a car for a payment is regulated under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. The Act provides for the regulation of the small public service vehicle, SPSV, sector, which includes taxis, hackneys and limousine services and is commonly referred to as the taxi industry. Under the legislation, the regulation of the SPSV business is carried out by the National Transport Authority, NTA.
Ireland's regulatory regime is governed by recent modern legislation, which provides for licensing arrangements and industry standards and applies to vehicles, drivers, operators and the services provided for the travelling public. The Act requires the licensing of vehicles and drivers involved in providing SPSV services. However, it places no quantitative restriction on the number of licences that may be issued. The objectives of the regulatory framework are to protect consumers and help ensure safety.
As Deputies are probably aware, the SPSV regulatory regime makes several requirements in the interests of passengers and the public generally. Drivers must be Garda vetted and must demonstrate knowledge of industry standards and the areas in which they will work. Vehicles must meet specific safety standards and appropriate insurance is required. Services must be operated to an appropriate standard for passengers and fares must be charged within the regulated pricing system.
As I mentioned, the focus of the regulatory regime is to protect the consumer and help ensure personal safety. These are vital objectives which must continue to be central to how the SPSV industry is operated and regulated. Within that context, there is a need to evolve and be open to new technologies and innovation. In that regard, there is now widespread use of technology in the SPSV industry, and such innovations are of benefit to consumers and operators.
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Over the past few years, there have been calls to change the regulatory system to allow the operation of certain taxi-type services that are not currently permitted. As the Deputy mentioned, ride sharing has been suggested as an additional means of providing transport services in rural areas.
The taxi regulation review report published by the Government in January 2012 recommended the introduction of a local area hackney licence to address transport deficits that would not otherwise be addressed in certain rural areas. Regulations permitting the issue of such licences were introduced with effect from December 2013 to enable a part-time hackney service to be provided in rural areas likely to be too small to support a full-time taxi or hackney operation and too far from adjacent centres to be serviced by taxis or hackneys therefrom. The RSA continues to offer the local area hackney licence to address transport deficits in certain rural areas. However, the number of active licences remains very low. The NTA has advised my Department that the principal deterrent to the take-up of the licences seems to be the high cost of insurance for the carriage of passengers for reward. A review of the position on local area hackneys is currently being undertaken by the NTA as part of the development of a strategy framework for the SPSV industry. It is expected that the review will be completed in 2019.
As regards the specific issue of transport connectivity in rural Ireland, the Deputy will be aware that the NTA has responsibility for providing integrated local and rural transport. This includes responsibility for the rural transport programme which now operates under the Local Link brand. The number of services has been expanded in recent years and spending on the programme has increased substantially. In recent months, the NTA has been conducting a pilot scheme to test evening and night-time services as part of the rural transport programme. The pilot scheme was recently extended and future arrangements will be informed by an evaluation of its experience.
We must remain open to new possibilities. However, the regulation of any public passenger service should continue to be determined in the context of the important safety and consumer objectives that underpin our existing legislation.