There is probably a delivery man sitting in a pub in Leenaun tonight, complaining that the police have nothing better to do than pull lads for speeding along the Lough Inagh valley road. It’s amazing the gear changes you hear when you’re standing behind a tripod on the side of a road as a car or truck whizzes by. In any case, speeding along this road is not advisable – the road twists and turns all along its length, and if you don’t make one of the bends, you’ll end up either in a ditch or the lake (bigger version of image available here).
The taxi drivers of Galway held a protest in town yesterday demanding a 3-year ban on the issuing of new taxi licences. Their complaint is that there are too many taxi-drivers plying their trade in Galway, and that, as a result, there isn’t enough business to go around. They seem to have plenty of support from the city’s councillors, as well as from local TD Frank Fahey who is also the chairman of the Dail’s Transport Committee. The Transport Committee had a sitting just before Christmas, where they heard submissions from the Taxi Regulator as well as various Taxi organizations. The transcript is here and the most telling aspect is that, where there is plenty of concern expressed about the ability of taxi drivers to make money working their shift, there isn’t a single mention of the passengers.
The plentiful supply of taxis in every city is great. I remember spending hours queuing for taxis when I lived in Dublin before deregulation, and I well remember the lousy service when a small group of taxi drivers held the monoploy of taxi licences in the capital. What the taxi drivers are looking for is a return to a monopoly – taxi drivers will make more money if there are less of them – of course, that means that people will have to wait longer in queues, or take their chances walking home. And any politician seriously proposing any return to an quasi-monopolostic situation might find that the people that elected him or her don’t share their enthusiasm.
In Galway, taxi drivers don’t even charge the fare that they are entitled to, in an effort to be competitive – there are several companies that waive the call-out fee or operate a fixed-fee irrespective of the distance of the trip. That is also very good for passengers, even if it is not so good for the taxi drivers. However, there is no need to limit the number of licences issued – the market will find its own equilibrium. If people cannot make a living driving a taxi, they will quit, and the numbers will reduce.
The funniest contribution in the committee meeting was from Tommy Broughan who compared the Irish taxi situation to the Swedish one. Tommy clearly hasn’t a bloody clue what he is talking about. I’ve been travelling to Sweden regularly since the beginning of the Nineties, and I can remember the shock of taking a taxi there for the first time. Even then, all taxis could accept credit cards, respected taxi ranks (i.e. showed up at them – something no Dublin cabbie seemed able to do when things got busy) and drove newish cars (usually either Mercedes or large Volvo saloons). By the mid-Nineties, the bigger taxi companies used a radio tracking system (this was well before GPS was available) to determine where their fleets were located. Oh, did I mention that the taxis invariably turned up on time ?
The Swedish companies were (and are) well organised. I remember asking a taxi driver how many cabs (from his company) worked out at the airport (Arlanda) – the answer was ‘around 500′. Taxi Kourir – a company that I have often used – has 2,000 taxis – all of which were newish, fully equipped cars. In contrast, there are very few large Irish taxi companies (which would give an economy of scale) and not all will take cards. According to the regulator :-
Ms Kathleen Doyle: The consultants will examine these.
Regarding multiple licences, over 91% of vehicle licence holders only have one vehicle licence. There is a small percentage of entities – 12 – which have between ten and 20 licences as well as a small percentage – 15 – that have between 20 and 80 licences. We have one entity with over 100 licences. The larger entities are fleets which employ drivers.
One contribution, from Tommy Gorman (who is the president of the National Taxi Drivers Union], would be funny if it wasn’t so sad :-
Mr. Tommy Gorman:
Any changes introduced by the commission have been at additional cost to the beleaguered taxi driver. The commission has not done anything positive for the service provider, the taxi driver. Anything that is aimed at the driver is at added expense, such as the measures to be introduced in January 2009 covering torches, triangles, first aid kits and fire extinguishers that will entail enormous cost.
Hmmm…a public service vehicle provider who thinks that having basic emergency equipment is a luxury (I have the same equipment in the boot of my car, and it didn’t involve ‘enormous expense’).
Of course, there are a few improvements here in Galway that could be made that would help the taxi drivers. The first is that the city should allocate more and more of the narrow city streets to public transport only. The sky didn’t fall when Shop Street was pedestrianised – it would survive if the area around Eyre Square was restricted to buses and taxis. The city needs more bus lanes (which taxis use too) and also taxi ranks. Taxi drivers could help themselves too, by actually showing up at taxi ranks. The rank in Knocknacarra rarely has taxis when they are most needed – by forming large taxis companies, fares can be better sitributed. At the moment, every driver wants to be in town where there is a better chance of a fare – that because most drivers are sole traders.
The Gardai could also help – by cracking down on drinking and driving. When I lived in town, my apartment overlooked a public car park. It would fill up every Friday and Saturday night, but the park would be empty the following morning. Maybe they were all driniking lemonade for the night, but…I doubt it.