Recent years have seen a dramatic fall in the number of taxi-drivers locally. It is being blamed on the red-tape needed to obtain a licence and is leading to an increasing number of firms struggling to find drivers to meet the demand.
Now, two local firms have joined forces to highlight the problem and call for action. Crazy Cabs run by Paul McGeough and McShane’s Taxis run by Joe McShane want to see an easing of the regulations required by the Department for Infrastructure.
They told the Chronicle that the gap was being filled by unlicensed drivers who are not insured to operate, and explained that the shortage of taxis could also lead to more anti-social behaviour in the town centre, especially at weekends because people are waiting longer to get home.
“The problem is the introduction of a driving test for taxi drivers as well as a theory test and five seven hour courses. It means that nobody is coming through, drivers are retiring and there’s nobody there to meet the demand, especially for night work,” Mr McGeough explained.
“Nobody has been working for the past year due to Covid which has meant that a lot of drivers have either retired or gone somewhere else. We are now in a situation where there might have been 30 cars in Strabane on a Saturday night and this number is more than halved.
“Six or seven years ago you were guaranteed to see a queue of taxis in The Square on a Saturday night. That doesn’t happen now because the numbers have been dropping here and across the whole of the north.
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“Bandit drivers are also starting to work off the street more and more, lifting fares that would have been there for the licensed taxis,” he continued.
“It’s also likely to lead to more drink-driving because people are going to take chances because taxis aren’t available.”
Joe McShane says the process for gaining a licence is having a detrimental impact.
“Every firm is being starved of drivers at the moment because there’s nobody coming into the business. The process for getting licensed is just too difficult, there’s too much red-tape and people who might want to become drivers just aren’t prepared to go through it,” Mr McShane said.
“It’s all old men who are working in the industry now. I’m 70 at Christmas and the number of cars I have on the road has fallen from about 36 cars a decade ago to 25 now. We could be down to half that again in the next five years.
“Things have definitely got worse and the worst case scenario is that there’ll be no taxis, or those that do operate will just sit on the street. There won’t be any taxi offices like now.
“A lot of people are just going out now with no taxi licences at all. They aren’t insured and if something happened the passenger is left without any compensation.
“It’s time the Government eased up on the licences, but I don’t see that happening unfortunately.
“I could employ up to another 50 people if the restrictions were relaxed, but the young people don’t want to know.”
The Department for Infrastructure says the decline is likely due to the coronavirus pandemic and the limited opportunities for new drivers to apply for their licence due to the restrictions which have been in place.