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Deregulated cab drivers vote to continue strike

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — The taxi drivers dispute, which has left the country without service since the government deregulated the industry, is now in its third week and the first new licenses are expected to be issued shortly in the new free-for-all system.

Thousands of part-time drivers who drove taxis using other people licenses — known as cosies — and hackney drivers who were not allowed pick up passengers on the street or at taxi stands, have applied for the new licenses.

Most of the 2,700 existing Dublin drivers belong to three unions, SIPTU, the National Taxi Drivers’ Union and the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation. They all voted at the weekend by about four to one to remain on strike.

The continued stoppage is now hitting the start of Christmas party season for offices and industry and the beginning of the pre-Christmas spending splurge.

The result of High Court challenge by the taximen to the new regime introduced by Progressive Democrats junior Minister Bobby Molloy is expected this week.

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To relieve the shortage of taxis, Molloy had planned to grant new licenses on a one-to-one ratio to existing license holders, but the move was shot down by the High Court after it was challenged by hackney drivers.

The existing drivers, who effectively run their own cartel, have received little support from a public that believes it has been ill-served and overcharged for years.

The drivers are expected to renew pickets on Dublin Airport this week as Aer Rianta is expected to do away with their monopoly stranglehold on the lucrative run into the city.

The airport authority is expected to implement a bylaw after an emergency board meeting that permits hackney drivers to collected passengers at the airport.

Despite rumblings among some Fianna Fail backbenchers, Tanaiste and PD leader Mary Harney made clear the government wasn’t going back down in the face of street protests, roadblocks and vigorous political lobbying.

"This decision was made to ensure we had a proper taxi service in Dublin," Harney said. "The people we want to serve are responsible citizens who go out for a night and leave their cars at behind, people who use taxis to go shopping because they don’t have their own public transport and many elderly people who use them to meet hospital appointments.

"We all want to see a modern dynamic taxi service. There is sufficient business in this city and around the country to issue more licenses. Everybody knows that. The more taxis we have, they more business there will be, because more people will be inclined to use them."

Harney said the drivers had been offered a realistic financial package if they had paid up to £80,000 on the previous unofficial "gray" market in which the restricted number of licenses were traded. The continued stoppage was only hurting their business and their families.

The drivers would have to accept that the new regime is here to stay.

"The market will determine the number of taxis that are necessary," Harney said. "The market grows when you have deregulation."

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