Sharp rise in gripes against taxi drivers

File image.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of complaints made about taxi drivers in the first quarter of the year, particularly in relation to fares.

Figures published by the National Transport Authority (NTA), which regulates the taxi industry, show that there had been a 40% increase in complaints against taxi drivers in the first three months of 2018 compared with the corresponding period last year.

A total of 313 complaints were made to the NTA between January and March this year compared with 223 last year.

The figure for the first quarter of 2016 was 182 and was just 127 for the corresponding period in 2015.

Driver behaviour still accounts for the biggest category of complaints — 126 in the first quarter of the year — but this category is followed closely by “fares matters” at 123.

Complaints related to the hiring of a taxi accounted for 51 of the total.

There were 12 complaints about the condition of the taxi, while one complaint related to identification of the driver.

NTA figures show that 150 drivers were prosecuted last year for breaches of taxi regulations outside of its on-the-spot fine regime following investigations by compliance officers.

The majority of cases related to a driver not holding a valid driver or vehicle licence or both.

A total of 1,512 fines were issued to drivers in 2017 — a 38% increase over the previous year.

A spokesperson for the NTA said that the number of taxi drivers fell marginally last year with the total number of licensed drivers in December at 26,012 — down 308 on the previous year.

The spokesperson said the number of both licensed taxi drivers and vehicles had stabilised since 2015 after a marked decrease in both numbers since 2008 with the start of the economic downturn.

The number of people working in the sector has now fallen by 45% since a peak in 2009 when there were over 47,200 licensed taxi drivers.

In the wake of the industry being deregulated in 2000 — when there were 13,367 licensed taxis — the number grew to a peak of 27,429 in 2008.

The number has fallen every year since and stood at 20,581 last year — down 223 on 2016 levels.

The NTA said that the reduction in the overall national taxi fleet was due to a combination of “reduced customer demand and a higher vehicle standard and driver testing requirements”.

In addition, since June 2010, new taxi and hackney licences are issued only for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The NTA has provided grants of more than €5.4m for the purchase of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in recent years.

Wheelchair accessible taxis currently account for 7.6% of the national taxi fleet, although the NTA has a target of getting this figure to 10% by 2020.

The National Private Hire and Taxi Association (NPHTA) said that it was important to realise that the level of complaints was minute given the overall number of taxi journeys made each day.

It has been estimated that between 64m and 80m taxi fares are carried out in the Republic each year.

“The media focus on the number of complaints against taxi drivers is out of proportion,” said a spokesman for the NPHTA.

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