THE committee tasked with regulating taxis is being stymied by government delays on a decision to deregulate the industry.
The Road Transport Licensing Committee says the purpose of the Road Transport Act, which it enforces, is to de-limit the number of taxi licences and introduce all-island taxi licensing.
But government is using the transitional provisions of schedule 2 of the act to delay the introduction of deregulation, meaning the committee is working against the spirit of the act by denying taxi licences to applicants.
And the committee claims, as well as leaving any decision made by the RTLC open to legal challenge, the situation is promoting artificial taxi plate prices and the illegal renting of plates.
The views are aired in a hard-hitting report which will be laid before Tynwald next week.
It says while 13 applications for new licences were made in the last year, all were refused.
This is a reduction in the number of applications, says the report, but it observes the drop may in part be due to the refusal of previous applications.
Both de-regulation and the issuing of new licences have long been fiercely opposed by cabbies in Douglas who have put pressure on government, fearing their livelihoods were in jeopardy.
Taxis are regulated under the Road Transport Act, which was intended to provide an island-wide ply-for-hire taxi service and remove the barrier to entry to the industry caused by the limitation on numbers of licences issued.
But temporary provisions were brought in to give the taxi trade a five-year breathing space.
The schedule was due to be revoked in 2007 at the end of the five years but has since been repeatedly extended by Tynwald.
The Department of Infrastructure carried out a consultation exercise in late 2010 to assess the public’s views on all-island taxi licensing and the limitation on numbers of taxis. As a result of that consultation an order was presented to Tynwald in March 2011 with a view to revoking part of schedule 2 and introducing all-island licensing. It led to protests outside Tynwald by Douglas taxi drivers and the motion was withdrawn.
‘Whilst it is disappointing to note that changes to the legislation are still awaited, the RTLC continues to be committed to discharging its duty and obligations in accordance with the existing legislation,’ says the report.
‘However, the committee cannot function effectively whilst the current conflict exists within the act. It is evident that a significant amount of time and resources has been taken up in dealing with quantity controls, rather than quality controls, and that any decision by the committee to grant or refuse a licence is open to legal challenge.’
The committee says, although taxi plates are owned by the RTLC and so are not for sale, businesses are being transferred or sold, mainly in the East District (Douglas), at artificial prices because of restrictions on taxi numbers. The report said ‘plates’ had been going for around £40,000 and although this figure had now dropped by half, this indicated people still wanted to enter the trade.
Artificial plate prices only arise when there are restrictions on taxi licences, as does the problem of the illegal renting of taxi plates, says the RTLC.
‘The act provides for the introduction of an all-island licensing system, which would likely increase the supply of taxis and the scope for customer choice,’ says the report. ‘It would also likely promote fuel efficiency, and better utilisation of vehicles, time and resources.
‘The present district or zoning system which operates in accordance with the transitional provisions can be confusing and frustrating to the public, who sometimes do not understand that a taxi is restricted to plying for hire in its licensed district.
‘Some members of the taxi trade are concerned that the removal of the district system will result in a proliferation of out-of-town taxis in the Douglas area (East District), which could in turn result in a shortfall in the number of taxis available in other areas of the island. The views and aspirations of taxi operators within the trade do however vary, depending on which district or area of the island they are currently licensed to serve.’
The report says the RTLC receives complaints about a lack of taxis in certain areas, mainly at the airport and the Sea Terminal. ‘It is evident that the actual number of taxis licensed is not the most appropriate measure of supply and that while some operators and drivers work long hours and provide a very effective service, others choose to work few hours, and in some cases licences are not used at all,’ says the report.
The RTLC is chaired by David Evans, with Keith Watterson as vice-chairman. Alwyn Collister, John Wormald and Fred Peck make up the membership and its secretary is Brian Leece.
•Last week Infrastructure Minister David Cretney told the House of Keys that his department had been briefed by a working party set up to look at proposals for the taxi trade, but he gave no hint of what the proposals were.
Previous public consultation has shown 78 per cent of respondents were in favour of all-island licensing.