New taxi fare meters are unlikely to be fully operational across the board in Derry for several months beyond the deadline of next weekend, according to figures within the industry.
Local figures within the taxi sector yesterday warned that there remains widespread frustration and confusion over the metering implementation process and the setting of new taxi fare tariffs, ahead of the enforcement of new legislation from next Saturday, October 1st.
Rumours about how much fares will increase in the city have also sparked major concerns.
The ‘Journal’ understands there are currently over 1,000 taxi drivers operating in the wider city area, making it one of the largest employment sectors in the north west.
And some drivers have expressed fears that the fare increases settled upon will not be sufficient to allow them to reduce their hours and make a liveable wage - a key element of the new legislation.
Fares are expected to be set by individual taxi firms, but talks are taking place to try and get agreement on similar pricing structures across different companies in the Derry area.
Tom King from the Derry branch of the Independent Workers’ Union, which represents a number of taxi drivers in the city, said that if certain firms were determined to keep tariffs low, this would undo, to an extent, the moderate increase in fares expected and which would allow drivers to reduce their hours and still make a wage they can survive on.
Mr King, himself a taxi driver, said that at present there were drivers who were working up to 70 hours a week to make ends meet.
“There is a lot of concern, a lot of anger and a lot of frustration.
“Some of the drivers are even talking about packing it in if these tariffs are not going to be worth their while.
“All drivers want is a moderate increase. Nobody is looking to rip anybody off. We all know there is hardship and poverty in the area.
“We would like to see the big firms sitting down with the smaller firms and agreeing a reasonable tariff where drivers are making money on each fare.”
Mr King added that taxi drivers themselves have been working to inform the public that the fears over fares rising dramatically are unfounded, and that the increase will be realistic.
“This is a massive industry for Derry and the serious issue now is that office owners need to knuckle down and rethink what the tariffs are going to be to give the working men and women a living wage so that they are not working excessive hours and putting themselves at health risk,” he claimed.
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard this week confirmed that the legislation requiring taxis to have an approved meter and printer installed will be enforced from October 1st.
Mr Hazzard said it was “regrettable that some drivers and operators have delayed arranging fitting and sealing of meters and printers until the last minute,” but said he recognised the concerns being expressed around the timescales.
“I have therefore instructed DVA enforcement officers to continue with a light touch approach to enforcement at the roadside, provided the driver can prove they have booked a test date prior to October 1st, 2016, even if the test is not due to take place until later in the year.
“I believe this will go a long way to addressing the concerns of the industry.”
Many local figures within the taxi industry have said that the process of getting the meters and tariffs ready, installed and up and running is a lengthy one.
This involves hundreds of local drivers booking vehicle tests, firms agreeing the fare structure, submitting and getting approval for this, the inputting of agreed tariffs into meters, installing metering and printing systems in the required way and getting the vehicles and new system tested, approved and registered. A number of drivers are understood to be already operating and piloting the meters in Derry.
Several people within the local taxi industry have said that it could be Christmas or even into the New Year before taxi meters are the norm in all taxis across the city.
Willie Doherty, manager at City Cabs said the changes to the taxi industry was “a huge culture change” for Derry’s taxi drivers and the public, as well as for the Driver Vehicle Agency itself.
He added that he believed it was generally accepted by all that fares in the town have been low, adding that the fares for longer journeys to outlying areas were likely to be “more realistic” going forward. He also concurred that while fares will increase in the city, they will not be over the top.