Deregulation ruined taxi trade, say drivers
Irish Times - Saturday, March 31, 2001
Taxi-drivers in the Mid-West have criticised deregulation, claiming it has destroyed the trade in urban centres in the region.
Mr Paul Hayes, Limerick spokesman for the local branch of the National Union of Taxi Drivers said: "The deregulation was brought about to solve a Dublin problem but it has ruined the business here. They have used a sledgehammer to crack a nut."
This was echoed by Mr Paul Kelliher of the Ennis-based Burren Taxi Co-op, who said: "We are a forgotten story at this stage, but the industry has been destroyed. It is a very emotional situation still and we have no one to turn to."
Figures released by Limerick Corporation show there has been a 56 per cent increase in the number of taxis in Limerick since deregulation last November. There are now 325 taxis operating there after the corporation issued 117 licences in addition to the 208 taxis already operating.
A corporation spokesman said there had been firm inquiries for a further 28 plates.
One Limerick taxi-driver, Mr Aidan Gallagher, said: "We're struggling. The hours are now horrendous to make a living. I am working 70 hours a week now. The level of business is just not there." He said that last June he paid £54,000 for his taxi plate and an additional £3,000 to the corporation.
"I have a wife and three kids and have had to remortgage the house," he said. "I am trapped into the business." He claimed deregulation was a "quick solution and was not properly thought out. We have been used as political pawns to solve a Dublin problem."
Last Saturday, he said, "was very busy, the longest wait would be five minutes. There is a better service, but there was a queue of cars at 4.10 a.m."
The chief executive of Limerick Chamber of Commerce, Mr Brendan Woods, said: "The service has improved but not as much as was initially anticipated." Government tax relief for taxi-drivers recently enacted in the Finance Bill allows for capital allowance over five years, dating back to November 1997.
But Mr Gallagher said it would be of no real help to him as he has a 20-year loan to pay off on his plate.
In Ennis, there has been an increase of 150 per cent in the number of taxis operating, with 51 now competing for business. Ennis-based Paul Kelliher said he had to take a full-time day job in Limerick to cover his costs. "The Government has robbed me of my pension," he said.
Local TD Willie O'Dea yesterday declined to comment on the taxi situation in Limerick. He was at the centre of a political storm last December after he initially offered his support to local taxi-drivers and then rowed in behind Government policy.
But Labour TD Jan O'Sullivan echoed the concerns of the taxi-drivers. She said: "Limerick did not need taxi deregulation. The city council was in the process of issuing 10 more plates with the agreement of the taxi-drivers. That would have met existing demand."