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Court told taxi industry opposed years of effort

Irish Times Friday, January 12, 2001

The taxi industry had opposed over the past decade the efforts of successive governments to improve the service, the High Court was told yesterday by a Government official.

Mr John Weafer, a principal officer of the Department for the Environment and Local Government, said in an affidavit that it was only in the past three years that the taxi representative groups had accepted the need for further licences, and even then this had been achieved grudgingly.

Mr Weafer said "some effort" was being made to ameliorate losses in the form of a special provision to allow tax relief and a proposal to refund certain licence fees.

Mr John Rogers SC, for the National Taxi Drivers' Union, which is challenging deregulation plans for the industry, said his clients knew nothing about the proposal to refund certain licence fees.

The union's application was being resumed after the Christmas recess before Mr Justice Carney.

In respect of tax relief, Mr Rogers said there had been ample opportunity for the Government in the Budget to say what tax relief was contemplated, even as a matter or principle.

He said the Minister of State for the Environment, Mr Robert Molloy, in advance of introducing deregulation, had indicated that tax relief was being considered. Otherwise the taxi-drivers knew nothing about it.

Mr Weafer, in his affidavit, said the Department was not disputing that some people would, following the introduction of deregulation, suffer financial loss. It had always been accepted that persons had paid significant sums of money for licences in recent years.

However, the licences enjoyed those values simply because there was a limit on the number. Their value was not generated by any goodwill or business developed by the owners of the licence. The licences were at all times subject to a statutory scheme which could change at any stage.

It appeared many existing licence-holders had applied for licences to delay the operation of deregulation. The Department did not accept that taxi licence-holders would not be able to earn a living as a result of deregulation.

The taxi-drivers' union believed the economic interests of drivers should dictate the exercise of the Minister's regulatory power. The Minister believed the interests of the public as a whole and the provision of a proper service should be his primary consideration.

Mr Weafer said that over the past 10 years there had been public outrage at the manner in which the taxi services, particularly in Dublin, had operated. People had to wait literally for hours at weekends to get taxis and there were lengthy queues.

The hearing continues today.

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