Transport chiefs have been accused of limiting competition and of protecting local hackney drivers after a refusal to grant extra licences for proposed new rural taxi services.
Junior Health Minister Jim Daly has made a complaint about the National Transport Authority (NTA) and its rules on the new rural taxi services to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).
In a letter to the consumer watchdog, obtained by the Irish Examiner, Mr Daly criticised the NTA’s refusal to grant extra licences for his proposed service — dubbed Ruxi — to get people to pubs, hospitals and church among other places. It stems from the NTA’s decision to protect existing hackney operators, he argued.
The minister, frustrated by the decision, has raised competition law concerns and said he cannot understand why a state agency, whose role is to enable public passenger services, would refuse licences on the sole basis of protecting existing operators in areas.
The NTA position, it appears, has put the brakes on his Ruxi plans in parts of the country.
In a letter written to CCPC chairperson Isolde Goggin on February 12, Mr Daly said: “This proposal is not designed just to meet current needs to pubs, restaurants, etc, but also to bring about a culture change which allows people to know that if, at any given time, they wish to go somewhere, be it a hospital, church, shop or pub, they can get there and back without wondering if the local hackney operator is on duty at all or even has their phone turned on.”
Under Mr Daly’s plans, the Uber-style taxi system would help combat social isolation.
The idea in part came after a crackdown on drink driving sparked a backlash in rural Ireland.
In other countries, an Uber app allows drivers to use their private cars to carry paying passengers.
But, despite sending his plans to the NTA for rural drivers here to do the same thing, Mr Daly has seen his project stalled.
In his letter to the consumer watchdog, he added: “I am struggling to understand why consideration of existing private operators in an area, are influencing the decision making process by the NTA to issue additional local area hackney licences, as they are applied for by private individuals.
“As I understand competition law, it is expressly prohibited to ‘limit or control production or markets’ as appears to be the case in this instance.”
Mr Daly said he had reservations around a state agency refusing extra driving licences just to preserve the rates of existing operators.
He also told the CCPC: “If we are successful with the introduction of a new service (by pilot initially), this success will be solely dependent on the availability of a large quantity of vehicles operating in local areas.”