ELEVEN of every 12 people who apply to become taxi drivers are failing the necessary test of knowledge and skills the first time they take it.
The Commission for Taxi Regulation yesterday said 2,179 people have taken the test -- but the overall pass rate, even after exams are repeated, is less than 20pc.
Since last July all new entrants to the industry are required to sit and pass the SPSV (small public service vehicle) Development Test before being issued with a taxi licence.
There are 90 questions in two sections, the first of which relates to the rules and regulations of operating in the SPSV industry.
The second section is the so-called knowledge test, which relates to the geography of the county in which a driver hopes to operate.
A pass mark of 80pc in each section must be achieved before a driver can be issued with a taxi licence. But new figures show that the overall pass rate is 19pc -- while the pass rate on first sittings stands at just 8pc.
Yesterday, Taxi Regulator Kathleen Doyle said the failure rate showed that drivers had to have an in-depth knowledge of their area to pass the exam.
"It seems to me that certainly people who have studied the manual do quite well, it's the area knowledge that's the tough one," she said. "This really demonstrates you need a clear knowledge of the county."
Last week, trade union SIPTU, which represents 400 taxi drivers based in Dublin, said members already operating in the industry would withdraw services if forced to take the test. They are seeking a clause exempting existing licence holders. But Ms Doyle said that no exceptions would be made and all drivers would have to pass the rules and regulations part of the test by January 2012. It is not yet clear if drivers who failed to pass will have their licence withdrawn. Ms Doyle said a decision had yet to be made in this regard.
"Anybody in the business since before July 2009 is exempt from the area knowledge because they have done this already," she said. "The way we would look at it is it's an upskilling mechanism for the industry. It's ongoing personal and professional training and it's from that perspective that we're asking licence holders to upgrade their skills.
"In 2012 we want to get everybody under the umbrella. SIPTU have been looking for this clause for some time, but there is no change in policy and there will be no rowing back."
Ms Doyle also said that complaints made about taxi drivers were falling. In 2007, there were 763 complaints, with 601 in 2008. Last year just 476 were received, of which 257 related to overcharging; 126 to the conduct of driver; 26 for vehicle condition and cleanliness; and 67 relating to the hiring of the SPSV, which included drivers turning up late for bookings or taking the wrong route.
Prosecutions also fell from 106 in 2008 to 84 last year, with most relating to overcharging.