THE number of people applying for taxi licences has decreased dramatically, in spite of the wholesale job losses across the economy.
Taxi regulator Kathleen Doyle has put the rapid decline down to a widespread realisation that there are so many drivers in the market that there is no room for further competition.
For at least the last five years, taxi unions and drivers have been pointing to an oversupply of licences to cars within the industry.
Speaking in Cork, Ms Doyle said the number of licences had been declining since the middle of September. This year alone it has declined by almost 500 to 26,299.
“We saw a spike from 2000 when the industry was liberalised and the increase continued until the middle of 2008 when the equilibrium we expected came about,” said Ms Doyle. “The market determined the numbers at that stage and since then there has been a decrease. There has been an exit from the market, whether due to retirement or change of careers or because they found the industry had become too competitive.”
She said the level of competition could not be downplayed and economic reviews of the industry confirmed drivers were earning 5% less. “But their earnings have not collapsed,” she said. “Yes the competition is out there. They definitely have to work longer hours to make a living but having said that it is a liberalised market, its an open market and if someone meets the criteria for a licence we must grant it. Also they are self-employed so it is a self-informed decision as to whether they come into the market.”
It appears likely that the pressures drivers face will get worse before they get better.
From next year, vehicle licences will not be issued or renewed on vehicles over nine years of age. And by 2012 there will be tighter restrictions on the size of vehicles to which licences will be issued or renewed. That means drivers will have to spend money on a new vehicle at a time when they are finding it harder to get finance from the banks.
Furthermore, at present no new ordinary taxi licences are being issued. Anyone seeking to enter the market must apply for a wheelchair accessible vehicle license.
“We are trying to achieve a proper proportion of the fleet that is wheelchair accessible and we have not been able to achieve that to date,” said Ms Doyle. “We have an initial target to get 10% of the fleet accessible. At the moment we are only at 6%. When we get to 10% we will talk to disability groups and see if that is enough.”
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