LAST Monday, the long-awaited and controversial taxi regulations came into operation, despite protest and disagreement from the taxi unions involved in negotiations.
The regulations and the reforms of the taxi industry, which were signed into law last August, drew much disdain from taxi unions, with unhappiness over aspects of the reform and claims that they were not consulted in the drawing up of these regulations. In spite of the protests, the regulations were introduced and taxi drivers have until October 16 to comply with them.
The Commission for Taxi Regulation was established in September 2004 to oversee the regulation of the industry, including the maintenance and provision of vehicles, the formulation of a new fare structure and the promotion of a safe, efficient and customer-friendly service.
The major talking point is the new fare structure and the nationwide basic fare of €3.80 during the day, supplemented by distance or time-related charges. There will be a premium fare of €4.10 between 8pm and 8am and also on Sundays and Bank Holidays, while charges for luggage and extra stops have been abolished. Under the new regulations, all fares will be charged off the meter using the national maximum taxi fare. There will also be a fare of 44 cent per minute if the speed of the car goes under 21km per hour.
Previously, the fare in this county was set by Mayo County Council, at €3.40, meaning a 30 cent increase under the new regulations. So how will the new regulations help Mayo consumers, or will they help at all?
One man who believes consumers will benefit from the new regulations is Michael Kilcoyne, Chairman of the Consumer Association of Ireland. Cllr Kilcoyne, who also sits on the advisory council of the taxi regulator, believes the new regulations will provide a fairer system, with benefits for both the consumer and the taxi driver.
“In some cases it is going to work out cheaper for the consumer and in some cases it is going to work out dearer. What we tried to do is to put in a fair system and that fair system means that the taxi driver must operate a meter and the costumer is entitled to be given a receipt. The taxi company is encouraged to give a discount and the customer is encouraged to negotiate a discount. The meter is the maximum fare and it is an offence to charge beyond that.
“Generally the taxi drivers around the country have been happy enough. It does mean that on short runs taxi drivers are going to get less than they were charging previously. But overall, based on the examinations carried out, they will be better off,” said Cllr Kilcoyne
In Mayo, taxis have only been licensed for the past four years. In Castlebar there are approximately 94 licensed taxis, with 70 in Ballina, while the remainder of taxi services in Mayo is made up of hackneys and cabs. The perception among many taxi drivers is that the regulations were needed to improve the industry. Conor Cresham, a well-known taxi driver in Castlebar, welcomed the new regulations, which he feels will benefit both customer and driver.
“It needed regulation badly, there were no proper checks, but now it is a one-stop shop for everything. You get your licence, your NCT, and it is all done in the NCT centres. It is transparent, they can tell if your licence is expired and if you should be on or off the road. It will make it easier for the Gardaí to see who is a rogue taxi driver.
“My own personal opinion is it will clean up the business and generate more revenue for taxi drivers. It will make it more transparent for the customers to have everything run on the meter. You can not have people going around refusing runs within 30km. There will be a couple of weeks of teething problems, but by and large I do not think people will have a problem at all,” he said.
While the new taxi regulations were broadly welcomed for streamlining the industry and taking power away from the local authorities, Jim Loftus, a taxi driver for over ten years in Castlebar, feels the price rises may not be welcomed by the consumers.
“I don’t know what the public will think of the fare increases. No matter how we look at it, Dublin and here are different, the wages and the expenses there are higher. I think the fare structure could have been broken up into areas. It may be easier for the regulator to have one price, but in Mayo it is almost all rural, and it is going to cost more for a night out. The problem is you do not have a bus service and it is all down to taxis. At night time it is going to be very expensive, you are really going to have to have a group in the car to make the trip more reasonable,” he said.
He also feels there is not enough business to accommodate all the taxi drivers all of the time. With no regular airport or train station runs, like in Galway, he points out that there is not enough business to subsidise negotiating cheaper fares with the customer.
So, while the new taxi regulations have been welcomed, only time will tell if the new fare changes and regulations will provide an improved taxi service for Mayo.