Commenting, Mr Buckley, who is also Chair of the Assembly’s Infrastructure Committee, said:
‘‘From listening to the sobering reports provided by a number of taxi firms over the weekend it is abundantly clear that the Department of Infrastructure has failed to grasp the scale and seriousness of current challenges facing the sector.
The number of registered taxi drivers has fallen by over 800 in the past year alone, many having sought alternative employment due to the downturn in activity during Covid-19. New drivers, meanwhile, have been faced with costly and prohibitive requirements, not least in relation to licensing and insurance, leading to a stretched workforce that is struggling to meet rising demand for services.
In this context, it is not surprising that taxi operators have expressed fears for the future of the industry. As further relaxations take effect and tourism kickstarts, it is absolutely crucial that these businesses have the tools to recruit quickly, and are subject to appropriate fare structures, in order to avoid any further loss of business.
On 6 July I tabled a motion on behalf of the Committee for Infrastructure calling on the Minister to implement measures to address the fall in driver numbers and identify a suite of measures to make the taxi sector more attractive to new entrants. It was passed without a vote. Despite this, there has been little evidence of DfI taking practical and decisive steps to remove red tape or enhance support for taxi operators. That must change and change quickly.
These concerns cannot simply be batted away. Action is desperately needed to end the gridlock in driver registration and allow the industry to thrive. Therefore I would challenge the Minister to engage intensively with taxi operators to identify lasting solutions to these concerns and to establish a wider review of her Department’s support for the sector moving forward.’’