Taxi crisis: ‘The problem is there will never be enough taxis to get everyone home at the same time’

Late at night, when the pub windows get dark and the doors shut, Michael O’Donovan begins to make his way home.

Publican Drives from the Castle Inn in the center of Cork, on its way home from the south side of town, the street dotted with silhouettes of people walking home.

The current taxi crisis in Cork and the rest of the country means people are risking walking into the city limits and suburbs in the early hours of the morning hoping for a taxi off the streets of the busy city center.

“We’re lucky we haven’t had an accident so far,” says Mr. O’Donovan. “It has gotten really bad since the end of the lockdown, and I think the knock-on effect is that the late night economy is suffering. There are enough taxis to drop people into town, but when people want to go home late at night, there’s a problem. ,

Mr O’Donovan says some people are not bothering to stay out late at the pub such as on Friday and Saturday nights.

“They’ve had a bad experience where they can’t get a taxi or need to walk home, so next time they’re making sure they get home early,” he says.

Like others, this Bank Holiday weekend, night outs in Ireland’s towns and cities will be left with no way home.

The lack of late night taxis has raised fears about public safety, especially for young women who can either afford to walk home or be alone in the city late at night. The reasons for the current shortage are complex and the possible solutions even more so.

Currently, only 29% of taxi drivers in Ireland are working at night. There are anecdotal reports which suggest that the pandemic has made day to day work more lucrative.

Those still working from home may require delivery of documents and boxes, while other drivers may get more work from HSE contracts to help ferry vulnerable people to hospitals.

This is coupled with the fact that many taxi drivers, especially those who have been working in the industry for a long time, do not realize the risks that come with working at night.

There are 30 percent fewer taxi drivers working in Ireland today than a decade ago. Representative groups have said many drivers still haven’t returned since the pandemic

Last week a taxi driver in Galway was stabbed after a fight between passengers in his car.

The government and the National Transport Authority (NTA) are trying to encourage more drivers to work between 8 pm and 8 am to reduce late night taxi shortages.

Taxi fares will increase by 12 per cent from September 1. Much of this increase will be through a “premium rate” charged for travel at night and on Sundays and public holidays.

NTA says 30 percent of drivers said they would consider working at night if fares were increased, but the National Private Hire Taxi Association (NPHTA) believes a hike in rates will not be enough .

NPHTA spokesman Jim Waldron said that even though drivers are getting €20 more to work at night, many people take extra hours during the day instead of work when they don’t feel safe.

Ireland’s licensing laws also mean a large number of people are trying to go home at the same time. One of the benefits of later opening hours – new legislation on it promised by Justice Minister Helen McKenty for later this summer – will be less pressure on taxis between 2 a.m. and 3 p.m.

There are 30 percent fewer taxi drivers working in Ireland today than a decade ago. Representative groups have said that many drivers still have not returned since the pandemic.

25 pc more late night weekend travel requests were made in June 2022 vs June 2019

When Covid-19 hit, many chose safer jobs as delivery drivers and couriers as the demand for those roles increased.

An estimated 40 percent of taxi drivers have not returned since the pandemic, and it is understood that many older drivers do not feel safe driving taxis as the virus continues to spread. For most of this month, there has been an intense recruitment drive for drivers, which seems to be working. The NPHTA says there are dozens of SPSVs (Small Public Service Vehicles) taking the test in Dublin alone.

But there are concerns that some drivers could be forced out of work later this year, as the maximum age for SPSV will be set again at 10 years after the extension given during the pandemic.

It is estimated that this will result in the removal of 5,300 cars from the industry. Taxi representative groups say cars parked for two years should not be taken out of the fleet, and drivers should have more time to earn the money needed to buy a new car – but these are also in short supply due to the pandemic and A combination of factors amid Brexit.

The country’s most popular taxi app Free Now states that the demand for taxis has also increased dramatically. It says it has now logged more drivers on the app than it did pre-pandemic. It also says that drivers are taking more trips than in 2019.

While there is evidence that drivers are leaving the industry, Free Now blames high demand for taxis for the current crisis.

Its drivers “have been making about 35 pc more taxi trips since the start of 2022 compared to the same period in 2019, which on average translates to one trip every two seconds”.

“At the peak of the late night we currently have comparable, if not greater, amounts of active drivers logged on the app versus 2019,” a spokesperson said.

“In contrast, passenger demand is now sharply higher – 25 pc more late night weekend travel requests were made in June 2022 versus June 2019.”

Free Now said it is receiving far more requests for taxis than drivers during peak hours. It said this showed that “a large number of people are now completely dependent on taxi drivers to take them home late at night”.

Groups such as Free Now and the NPHTA both argue that it is not sustainable for people to use different types of public transport to get into the city at night, but rely almost exclusively on taxis to get home. “There will never be enough taxis to get everyone home right away,” said Mr. Waldron.

Asked whether there were plans to expand late night public transport to reduce demand for taxi drivers, the NTA said there were now eight late nights on the Transport for Ireland network in Dublin compared to none in 2019. There are bus services, and a number of 24-hour services are being considered in Dublin and Cork. There are already some services in Dublin that run on a 24-hour schedule.

The current taxi shortage has revived the idea of ​​apps like Uber operating ride-sharing services.

In 2019, a rural ride-sharing idea was proposed by Jim Daly, formerly of Cork Southwest TD. The idea was that locals in smaller towns and villages could drive Uber-style transportation to drive people home, keep local pubs alive, and eliminate drink-driving.

A pilot was proposed at Kinsale, with Free Now ready to participate. It said that while it was aware of the pilot, it “did not support any suggestion of rural ride-sharing outside an appropriate regulatory framework”.

The pilot plan died after the 2020 election, when Mr Daly stepped down as a TD. Taxi representative groups are against the introduction of ride-sharing, and the NPHTA has used an upcoming meeting with tannist Leo Varadkar to pull them up on recent comments that Ireland may have merit for having an Uber.

Some politicians are nervous about Uber and if it will confront taxi drivers for supporting it, a former minister said he believes taxi drivers will “bring Dublin to a standstill” in protest. “.

That’s even before the recent bad press, which revealed Uber’s involvement in a global lobbying scandal.

Uber itself is set to use the current taxi crisis as an opportunity to start discussions about the operation of its ride-sharing app in Ireland. a spokesperson told Irish independent The service was “ready to work with industry and government on addressing the current shortage”.