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Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 17 June 2021

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Ceisteanna (13, 64, 98, 197)

Duncan Smith


13. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Transport his plans for sector specific supports for the taxi industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31503/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett


64. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Transport if he will report on the measures he is taking to support the taxi industry and taxi drivers and assist its recovery following Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31410/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ruairí Ó Murchú


98. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Transport if consideration has been given to expenditure on specific Covid-19 supports for the taxi industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32392/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ruairí Ó Murchú


197. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Transport the current supports for the taxi industry, detailing plans for further supports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30203/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

My question relates to the taxi industry. Are there any plans for a further, more comprehensive suite of sector-specific supports for the industry? The Minister is aware of taxi drivers' demands. They have been demonstrating in a positive and consistent manner and it is one of the industries which is last on the list to recover from the pandemic. I am very interested in hearing the Minister's response.

I thank the Deputy for his question. I propose to take question Nos. 13, 64, 98 and 197 together.

I take this opportunity to set out the broad framework of horizontal support measures the Government has made available to the taxi industry in response to this pandemic. The industry has been badly affected by Covid-19. Passenger demand for services has dropped and many small public service vehicle, SPSV, operators simply have not worked since the start of the pandemic. I understand as many as 70% of SPSV drivers have availed of the PUP, 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 eight-week period, net of expenses. As society begins to reopen and passenger demand for taxis increases, this will become an increasingly 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. That is the context in which my Department has funded additional measures targeted at the SPSV sector.

Many of the major costs associated with operating a taxi, such as insurance and dispatch operator fees, can be deferred or cancelled during a period of inactivity. Following consultation with the advisory committee, measures are being developed to target those statutory costs that 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. Furthermore, I have allocated €3.5 million towards the refund of national car test, NCT, test fees and motor tax for SPSV operators for a 12-month period, the commencement date for which has yet to be decided. The NTA will administer these refund schemes and further details, including how to apply, should be available during the third quarter of this year.

The replacement of a vehicle is the single largest cost faced by any SPSV operator. I remain committed to supporting the transition of the fleet towards zero/low-emission vehicles.

I thank the Minister. He will be aware that the response from the taxi industry and the representative bodies has not been welcoming of what has been announced. It is not enough. The NTA has stated that SPSV drivers have €11,500 in fixed costs per year so we need a support for that. The extension of vehicle age limits must go beyond next year. Taxi drivers must be able to plan for the next three, four or five years in order to recover from this. The moratorium on taxi licences is another ask they had which would have zero cost to the State. They also want a guarantee of the continued use of quality bus corridors, which I believe is something the Minister has verbally supported them on. They also want reform or disbandment of the Taxi Advisory Council. I am in favour of reform such that the council works more effectively.

On the PUP, it must be remembered that there are a number of taxi drivers who are older and thus not entitled to the payment. They have not been able to avail of it and are outside that support mechanism.

The Deputy is right and that is a real difficulty but we have done everything to try to support the taxi industry. In the relevant negotiations, the Minister for Social Protection made an exception by allowing people in this industry to have an income while on the PUP, and also to cover the expenses. I absolutely recognise that that does not apply to people above a certain age limit but unfortunately for the Department of Social Protection, it could not go to the step of having different age limits for different sectors availing of the PUP.

On another of the Deputy's points, it is slightly infuriating that people are out there saying taxis will be banned from the bus corridors. They are just scaring people, stirring up trouble but not actually telling the truth. That was never announced, never planned and never considered. The approach has always been to allow taxis in the bus lanes. If that is a fear that is out there, let us scotch it because it is an unnecessary added fear in what is a fearful enough time for people.

It is really encouraging to have that on the record of the House. It will help to quash any concerns in relation to the issue.

We go through the arts industry and the events industry and we have spoken about aviation. Taxis drivers should be included with these industries which are going to be the last ones to recover from the pandemic. Taxi drivers have still had to pay out of their own pockets to install glass screens, acquire PPE and apply other protective measures to their vehicles. They need supports to recover from that. It almost goes unsaid but there must be a shift in how they are treated and respected by all. They are a vital service in the context of our transport system. Taxi drivers have been out there delivering people to vaccine appointments, testing appointments and doing an awful lot of unheralded work out of their own pockets in an unsafe and scary time. I certainly do not think that has been recognised enough and it needs to be put on the record. I thank the Minister for his replies today. We will continue working on this.

Questions Nos. 14 to 16, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 17 answered with Question No. 9.
Question No. 18 replied to with Written Answers.