The 2003 Taxi Regulation Act in Ireland transferred a range of regulatory functions from the Department of Transport, local authorities and the Gardaí (Irish police) to the newly created Commission for Taxi Regulation. This is an independent public body with the principal function of developing and maintaining a regulatory framework for the control and operation of taxis, hackney cabs and limousines (collectively known in Ireland as SPSVs - Small Public Service Vehicles) and their drivers, to ensure a quality consumer-oriented service for users. The Commission is overseen by a Commissioner, known as the Taxi Regulator, who is appointed by the Government.
This study aimed to provide the Commission with a baseline of information to feed into its Strategic Plan for the period 2005-2009. It is complementary to a separate study on vehicle standards in the SPSV sector in Ireland.
The overall objectives of the study were to assess the extent and quality of taxi services in the Irish Republic and to make recommendations that would inform the development of a quality, consumer-oriented licensing system for SPSVs and their drivers.
Specific objectives included research into the following:
- consumers' views on service quality;
- measures to improve quality (of vehicles, drivers and overall service delivery);
- how to cater for disabled taxi users (in terms of vehicle design and market operation);
- the need to keep separate licensing systems for taxis (which can ply for hire in the streets or wait for customers in ranks) and hackneys/limousines (both of which need to be booked in advance);
- the need to retain the concept of taximeter areas;
- the advantages and disadvantages of a common national fare structure and the potential to simplify the fare structure;
- the case for extending fare control to hackneys;
- the criteria and process for reviewing fare levels and responding to requests from operators to be allowed to increase fares;
- the establishment of an efficient and effective complaints procedure and quality assurance; and
- the potential to streamline licensing systems faced by taxi owners.
The methodology involved:
- examining the nature and structure of the SPSV market in Ireland;
- reviewing the supply and demand of SPSVs in the two largest cities (Dublin and Cork) and two medium-sized towns (Sligo and Clonmel);
- examining the current regulatory framework and its impact on the market;
- assessing the level and adequacy of services for disabled people;
- mapping out existing procedures with respect to licensing (for vehicles and drivers) and examining the potential for changes;
- examining the level of competition and income profiles; and
- drawing on experience in other countries.
The study concludes that the taxi and hackney market is working well and that there has been a rapid increase in the number of cabs (taxis, hackneys and limousines) since liberalisation of the market in 2000. This has increased the level of service and reduced waiting times for cabs. The increase in supply has not led to a reduction in the quality of service.
However, the study identified a number of issues which need to be addressed in order to maintain and improve services:
- Services continue to be inadequate for people with disabilities.
- The complaints system is inadequate and people are often not aware of complaint procedures.
- Certain towns have not declared taximeter areas, hence some hackneys are operating outside the law and plying for hire on the street. Where taximeter areas have been declared, they are often poorly designed, covering very small geographical areas, hence most trips are not on the meter or subject to maximum fare regulations.
- Enforcement of legislation regarding the operation of hackneys is inadequate, particularly outside major urban areas.
- Consumers are faced with a relatively complex fare structure, which differs between taximeter areas. The fact that maximum fares operate only within taximeter areas is confusing to the consumer.
- Estimates indicate that average earnings for taxi drivers have fallen since liberalisation of the taxi market.
- Consumers are not fully aware of their rights and responsibilities, or those of taxi and hackney cab drivers.
- Taxi and hackney vehicle and driver licensing systems are somewhat fragmented.
To maintain and further improve services, the report makes a number of recommendations, including the following:
- Better education for taxi and hackney users in relation to their rights as consumers and the legal code applying to cab services. A user-friendly guide to the regulations would be beneficial to consumers.
- There is a need for better in-cab information for users, e.g. driver and vehicle licence details, fare cards, and information on customer complaint procedures, with summary information in a number of foreign languages.
- A comprehensive information and complaints system is required. It is recommended that dispatch companies be required to maintain a log of complaints for inspection by the Commission, and that the Commission take the lead in the development of a complaints system in co-operation with the Garda Síochána (Irish police). A penalty points system should be developed for drivers who have complaints against them upheld.
- It is recommended that a Customer and Driver Charter be introduced, detailing the rights and responsibilities of each.
- There should be a policy to significantly expand the proportion of cabs that are wheelchair-accessible (e.g. through tax incentives for taxi operators), and monitoring is needed on the level of service provided to people with a disability.
- It is recommended in the short-term to retain separate taxi and hackney licensing, but to re-consider the issue in the longer term once other reforms have been implemented.
- Taximeter areas should be expanded to cover towns with significant populations (e.g. over 7000 inhabitants) and the geographical boundaries of these taximeter areas should reflect settlement patterns.
- Access to bus lanes (currently open for taxis) should be granted to hackneys and limousines.
- The same fare structure and fare levels should apply in all taximeter areas.
- A tiered fare structure for taxis is recommended which compensates drivers for long distance journeys and allows all trips to be made on the meter. Fares should normally be reviewed every two years.
- Hackney and limousine fares should remain unregulated.
- Attendance of taxi drivers at a training course should be obligatory and should be part of the renewal process for driver licensing. The renewal period itself should be reduced to every two years.
- The first time taxi licence fee (€6300) is considered a barrier to entry to the market. This should be consid