Derry taxi sector ‘in crisis’ warns Eamonn O’Donnell, manager, North West Taxi Proprietors

The taxi sector is in crisis, a leading industry figure has said.
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Eamonn O’Donnell, manager, North West Taxi Proprietors, warned of a serious dearth of drivers blighting the sector.

“We are in a crisis, and we need the Minister to move to address the issues as we come out of COVID. We need legislative and policy changes. The impact for the taxi industry will be the lack of drivers,” said Mr. O’Donnell.

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Speaking during a recent briefing of the Stormont Infrastructure Committee prior to its adjournment for the summer, Mr. O’Donnell told MLAs a failure to support the sector will have repercussions for the night-time economy.

Eamonn O'Donnell of North West Taxi Proprietors Ltd.  (1702JB17)Eamonn O'Donnell of North West Taxi Proprietors Ltd.  (1702JB17)
Eamonn O'Donnell of North West Taxi Proprietors Ltd. (1702JB17)

“We have the potential impact of the possibility of increased drinking, and we are getting it in the neck from Visit Derry the City Centre Initiative and the purple flag people about safe city centres, all because there are people loitering about the city centres.

“The tourism sector wants us to have staycations. Staycations do not look favourable when the city centre is not being ‘redd’ and there are all the issues that come from that to consider. You have issues with the vintners, restaurants and hospitality. Everybody wants a recovery from COVID. The fact that we are not able to supply the taxi services and the rise of the unregulated sector and all that mean that we are in crisis,” said Mr. O’Donnell.

He said there needs to be policy and legislative change to allow operators to bring people into the industry.

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“We also need to get a lot of young people into the industry. There are great job opportunities. The implications of doing nothing is that there will be a major crisis come September with schools contracts and health contracts.”

Mr. O’Donnell said the licence system as it currently stands is a bar to entry. “If you look at the number of applications that we got to do the taxi theory test last year, you will see that there were 111. There is no great incentive for people to enter the industry. In the old system, we were able to get people into the taxi industry in six to 10 weeks. The new system takes four to six months and much longer for some people who are not academically at themselves. The lack of numbers coming in is killing the industry. The taxi theory test is a major blockage.”

He pointed to a staggering drop in the number of drivers.

“In 2018-19, there were 10,268 drivers. That dropped to 8,700 by 2021. We believe that we are actually 30% down on that, and that is where we get the figure of 5,000 for active drivers. Those are the official figures. If you go back to 2013, you will see figures as high as 16,000 for active taxi driver licences, dropping right down to where we are now. It is a crisis.”

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