THE Government must make face masks mandatory in taxis - or too many passengers and drivers won't bother to wear them, according to Free Now.
The taxi hailing firm appealed for immediate Government action as it reported a 45pc surge in business among its 14,000 operators since the first restaurants and pubs reopened on Monday.
Its director for Ireland and the UK, Alan Fox, said the UK already requires taxi passengers to wear masks.
"It is vital that the Government here does the same without delay to avoid any ambiguity around this and enforces a mandatory requirement urgently," Mr Fox said.
He and Noel Ebbs, chief executive of rival firm Lynk Taxis, expect this weekend to be the busiest for their drivers since before the lockdown.
Both firms have installed polycarbonate screens in most of their drivers' taxis to separate drivers from passengers, and both prefer contact-free payments to cash.
But they don't adopt the exact same line on the necessity of universal mask use inside taxis until the pandemic ends.
Lynk Taxis has invested more than €150,000 in polycarbonate screening in its fleet and credits its effectiveness.
"Masks should be mandatory where there is no protective screen installed in the taxi between the passenger and driver," said Mr Ebbs, whose Dublin firm has about 1,500 drivers and has seen business rise by at least 35pc since Monday.
He said Lynk does want all drivers to wear masks, but it's not mandatory. Lynk provides its drivers with masks, wipes and hand sanitiser and requests they use them "as often as possible".
More pubs this weekend will be reopening for the first time during the pandemic. This also will be the first time since mid-March that some establishments will extend opening hours past midnight, driving up demand for taxis - and, potentially, the difficulty of managing passengers.
"If this Monday to Thursday is anything to go by, this weekend is set to be the busiest we have seen since the beginning of March across the country," Mr Fox said.
Lynk sent an email last night titled "Heading out?" that advised customers to wear masks, sit only in the back seats and carry hand sanitiser.
"If unwell, don't travel," it said.
Mr Fox said: "We are all relieved to be able to leave home more, see loved ones and book to go to restaurants and pubs after what has been a truly terrible time for everyone. However, there is an inevitable lack of confidence in the current safety measures in place for public transport."
He said taxis should limit their loads to two customers, both in the back seats.
"We have been advising both passengers and drivers to wear face coverings for months now and have been following Government guidelines throughout. However, as they have not yet been made mandatory, this is leading to ambiguity," he said.
The sooner that all passengers start to wear masks, he said, "the sooner we can limit any augmented Covid-19 spread and get back to some kind of normal".
The Government last month said it would make face masks mandatory on public transport on June 29 - and some State websites continue to say this is the law of the land. However, the health and transport departments are still working behind the scenes on a legally enforceable regulation that may be introduced next week.