MANY cabbies suffered a "financially disastrous overnight catastrophe" as a result of the liberalisation of the taxi licensing regime in 2000, the High Court heard.
They should now be entitled to damages as a result of what was an unlawful and unreasonable move, it was claimed yesterday.
Counsel was opening actions by three taxi drivers, Alphonsus Muldoon, Vincent Malone and Thomas Kelly, and the cases are regarded as test cases for actions by some 1,200 other drivers arising from liberalisation of the taxi licensing regime in 2000.
Drivers who bought licences from other licence holders for sums as high as €100,000 had their constitutional rights to property, equal treatment and to earn a livelihood breached when the value of those licences was wiped out overnight in November 2000, counsel Michael Collins said.
Some drivers bought licences as late as August 2000 – but months later licences could be acquired by any appropriately qualified person for €5,000.
While there was some discussion of liberalisation before November 2000, various reports and consultants who addressed the issue recommended it should be implemented on a phased basis and drivers could not have expected it would happen overnight, Mr Collins said.
The case of Dublin-based Mr Muldoon, the first being opened, is against the Environment Minister, the State and Dublin City Council. The defendants deny liability.
Mr Muldoon (66) bought a licence from another driver for IR£80,000 in 1998, plus a IR£3,000 licence fee.
He claims the 2000 regulations deprived him of an anticipated substantial asset which he intended to use for pension purposes.
He paid for the licence with his IR£40,000 life savings and by remortgaging his home for the other IR£40,000. While he was later paid €13,000 compensation under the Taxi Hardship Scheme, that did not compensate him for the loss suffered, he claims.
As a result of the new licensing regime of 2000, he was unable to meet mortgage repayments over certain periods, his earning capacity and health were affected and he has been unable to provide for a pension with the effect he faces having to work indefinitely, Mr Muldoon also claims.
Yesterday, Mr Collins argued the licensing regime in force between 1978 and 2000 was not in the interests of taxi drivers or passengers as it unlawfully allowed local authorities to limit the number of licences issued.
There was no dispute the number of taxis that existed during this time was wholly inadequate to address demand.
The court heard no new licences were issued in Dublin over a 10-year period from 1978 beyond the approved number of 1,800. During the 1990s, approval was given for some additional licences. Mr Muldoon claims, when he sought to enter the industry in 1994, he was advised he would have to buy a licence from an existing holder.
The case continues.