05 March 2009

Taxi Drivers protest against idiotic Regulation

More than 1500 taxi drivers have protested in Dublin this afternoon over the issue of taxi licences.

The protesting drivers assembled at Merrion Square, after making their way from three separate meeting points at the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, the Stillorgan Shopping Centre and the Airside Retail Park

This was the fifth public protest by the pressure group Taxi Drivers for Change.

The drivers claim that - since the deregulation of licensing in the year 2000 - the number of taxis in Dublin has risen from originally 2000 to now 25000 (!) and say that too many taxis are currently in operation. As a result it is impossible for drivers to make a decent living.

Taxi Drivers for Change wants the taxi industry to be restructured and the issuing of new licences to be suspended.

The Department of Transport acknowledged that "taxi drivers are facing genuine difficulties". However, a spokesperson said that the Minister for Transport is "waiting for the Commission on Taxi Regulation to report before he makes any further comment".

This is another typical example of the government dragging its feet while a serious problem is appearing on their doorstep. Noel Dempsey (right), the Minister for Transport, has no interest in doing anything, as he has not a clue about the situation on the streets. He also has the reputation of being one of the most messy and least efficient Fianna Fáil ministers.

Neither he nor anyone else in government is willing to acknowledge that the whole idea of 'independent' regulation is a complete failure and responsible for the shambles we can see now every day.

Ireland is a small country with only about 4 million population. But it has a 'Commission on Taxi Regulation' which is "an independent public body, the principal function of which is the development and maintenance of a regulatory framework for the control and operation of small public service vehicles (SPSVs) which comprise taxis, wheelchair accessible taxis, hackneys and limousines". (The author of this definition should be nominated for a hogwash jargon award...)
It is housed in a splendid office building in Dublin and employs 22 people full-time (and some more part-time).
The 22 permanent staff are the Commissioner Kathleen Doyle, and under her two directors, three department heads and a technical advisor. Below management level there are
  • one 'customer services manager',
  • two 'customer services administrators',
  • one 'information officer',
  • one 'enforcement executive',
  • one 'enforcement administrator'
  • and nine 'enforcement officers'.
What all these people with their pompous and meaningless job titles are actually doing all day is anyone's guess. But they are very well paid, for sure.
I asked many taxi drivers about them, and the overwhelming opinion is that they are "a total nuisance", "completely useless", "a waste of space" and "a waste of taxpayers' money".

But that is not enough. The 'Commission on Taxi Regulation' has also a part-time 'Advisory Council' with no less than 17 members! What they do is even more nebulous than the purpose of the commission itself.

In contrast to the Irish situation let's have a brief look at Germany, the largest of the 27 EU countries, with a population of over 82 million (more than twenty times the size of Ireland) and many more taxis than we have.
Germany has neither a commission on taxi regulation, nor any advisory council. The legislation on how to operate a taxi is very clear, and anything that needs to be changed or regulated is done by two civil servants in the German Federal Ministry of Transport. That is it. Two people, for a population of over 82 million, while we have a total of at least 39 people for a population of little more than 4 million.

I think that speaks for itself and needs no further comment.

If the government were really serious with their plans to save money, they would simply abolish the whole bureaucratic apparatus and let the matter of taxis be handled by a civil servant in the Department of Transport. That was good enough until the year 2000, and it worked fine.
But then Bertie Ahern began his mad and irresponsible spending spree, which coincided with a massive programme to create cosy public service jobs for his friends and supporters.

Within a couple of years countless 'regulators' were created out of nothing, and they all got lavish offices with plenty of staff. None of these 'regulators' - from the 'Financial Regulator' over the 'Energy Regulator' and the 'Communications Regulator' to the 'Commission on Taxi Regulation' - has done anything worth doing. In fact, they have made the situation in Ireland a lot worse and cost the taxpayers vast sums of money.

We should scrap the whole lot at once. It would save us hundreds of millions immediately and make life in many areas a lot less complicated.
But going by previous experience, I do not expect this to happen. The cosy cartel of government, TDs, civil servants and corporate bosses is not willing to make the sacrifices the Taoiseach and his Minister for Finance have in mind for the rest of us.

Perhaps some more, and some more direct action is called for to wake them up. I salute the 1500 taxi drivers who made their fifth contribution to this process today, and I was myself among the 120,000 who recently demonstrated in Dublin. We will have to keep this up, and - if necessary - increase the pressure. Otherwise we are settled with this incompetent government for another three years, and by then Ireland would certainly be bankrupt and a failed state.

The Emerald Islander

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