"That Dáil Éireann:
— that 19,636 Small Public Service Vehicles are registered with the National Transport Authority in 2020;
— the 3,059 taxis and hackneys which are wheelchair accessible, with many people relying on these daily;
— the very important service taxi drivers provide as part of the public transport system across Ireland;
— the selfless contribution that taxi drivers have made during the pandemic, with many working throughout, despite the dangers, ferrying nurses and doctors to hospitals to ensure they could continue to care for patients;
— the huge challenges faced by the drivers in the taxi industry as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic;
— the evidence given by taxi representatives to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response;
— that 23 per cent of drivers in the industry are aged over 66 years and are excluded from the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment scheme;
— that 15 per cent of drivers in the industry are aged over 70 years, and while the public health advice was for these people to limit the number of close contacts they had, many were forced back to work early, due to the lack of State support;
— the taxi protest scheduled, which highlights the frustration expressed by drivers at the lack of support and assistance from the Government and the National Transport Authority during the current pandemic;
— that the recent media reports, which suggest taxis could be banned from bus lanes, have caused offence and concern in the industry at an already very challenging time;
— the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles (Taxi Advisory Committee) has lost the confidence of many drivers; and
calls on the Government to:
— hold constructive engagements with taxi drivers and their representative groups to discuss the challenges faced by the industry and to listen to the constructive proposals
— introduce a financial assistance package to help drivers to get back to work;
— introduce a temporary moratorium on the issuing of new taxi licences during the current pandemic;
— permit, for the length of the current pandemic, a two-year extension for vehicles which would normally have to be replaced as a result of the nine-year rule, provided such vehicles are safe and roadworthy;
— undertake a review of the current Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles (Taxi Advisory Committee); and
— establish a National Public Transport Forum and produce a long-term strategy for the future viability of the taxi industry here."
I am sharing time with Deputies Ó Broin, Ó Snodaigh, Paul Donnelly, Ó Laoghaire and Mitchell.
Yesterday, thousands of taxi drivers took to the streets in protest. Nose to tail, they filled four lanes around Merrion Square and every inch between there and Ballyfermot. It was an incredible display of solidarity and strength but it was also a last resort for them. I take the opportunity to commend the four taxi representative groups which organised the protest, namely, the Taxi Alliance of Ireland, the National Private Hire and Taxi Association, the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation and Tiománaí Tacsaí na hÉireann.
Yesterday's protest was an event of unprecedented scale and was borne out of the absolute frustration of taxi drivers at an unprecedented time. The four representative groups make five demands of Government. First, they want a financial package to help taxi drivers get back to work which recognises that the current one-size-fits-all approach by Government is wholly inadequate for those sectors worst affected by Covid. This is particularly the case for drivers who work for themselves. Second, they call for the retention of and continued access to bus lanes and quality bus corridors for taxi drivers. Third, they are seeking a moratorium on the issuing of taxi licences and the introduction of a buy-back scheme. Fourth is a request for a two-year extension to the nine-year rule. Their fifth demand is for the disbandment of the taxi advisory committee and the establishment of a national transport forum.
These five demands reflect the three core issues which are at the heart of the taxi drivers' protest and at the heart of the Sinn Féin motion, namely, the need for recognition, respect and support for a sector which provides an essential public service and has been devastated in a very particular way by Covid and the restrictions that come with it. Taxi drivers provide an essential service within our transport network. Many people with disabilities rely on taxis daily, whether for school transport, trips to and from scheduled services or simply to get them from A to B. The same applies to the transport of essential healthcare staff and goods. Taxi drivers work 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. That is a statement of fact. They should be recognised by Government, and feel recognised by Government, for the essential role they play in our transport services.
The Government should ask itself why they feel no such recognition. Taxi drivers are regulated and licensed by the National Transport Authority, NTA, and display the Transport for Ireland sticker on their vehicles. Why do they not feel recognised or respected? The answer is that they can point to where they have been excluded, isolated and ignored. Their call for the disbandment of the taxi advisory committee is an example of that, as is the handling of the phantom proposal in regard to bus lanes. I am glad the Taoiseach clarified that particular issue yesterday in the Dáil when he said it was not on the agenda. He and the Minister will be held to account in that regard. It is an example of how taxi drivers have been excluded from decisions about their own industry and their own future.
That is completely unacceptable. They are at the end of their tether. Work has completely dried up. The industry is entirely dependent on the movement of people, a busy Croke Park, a busy airport, busy nightlife, gigs and festivals, and busy businesses. All of these are gone. Coupled with the wholly inadequate supports provided by the State, thousands of drivers are struggling to make ends meet. To put it bluntly, they cannot make ends meet. Fixed costs have remained in place. The NTA estimates that these are in the region of €15,000 per year. Many taxi drivers have been left with little or no income for six months. If they are lucky, they are on a reduced Covid payment and eligible for a €1,000 grant in support. One should bear in mind, however, that they might be expected to pay €40,000 for a new vehicle on 1 January 2021. They are watching more people enter the sector as licences are being given out, thereby diluting the available work.
I look forward to this important debate. It needs to mark a step change in Government engagement and support for the sector. I urge Members to support the motion, which reflects the drivers' concerns and calls on the Government to step up and recognise the important role taxi drivers play in our transport system.