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Sinead Ryan: I'm no big fan of taxis but this woman has screwed them royally

THE head of a State agency taking to her job with altogether too much zeal is Kathleen Doyle, the Taxi Regulator.

She has deemed it fitting to disregard the current economic climate and bring in a new rule, banning drivers from owning cars more than nine years old, without so much as a by-your-leave -- a full 12 months before it was originally intended, a move which will, quite simply, put many of them out of business.

Nobody called for the change. There was no clamour from the people, nor obviously, from drivers themselves. No Government paper was written; no march or protest precipitated the move. Yet, it has been introduced anyway.


Unlike other quango heads, you won't know Ms Doyle -- she is extraordinarily media unfriendly, frequently refusing to appear on television or radio (as she did last year on Liveline after forcing a fare increase nobody wanted), despite her hefty salary, paid for by the taxpayer.

Yet it is she who has decreed that from January 1 this year no taxi can be more than nine years old. Hurrah, I hear you say. No more dirty old clunkers driving me around. However, the move may well take up to 24pc of the 23,000 taxis off the road. That's fewer taxis (old or new) to cart you and I to our destinations, after all the years waiting for the market to be deregulated.

Five years ago it may not have mattered. Credit was freely available, people were changing their cars as frequently as their underwear and a shiny new Merc was the least you expected to cart you around the city centre in the style to which every Tiger cub had become accustomed.

But now all is changed utterly. A self-employed cab driver has about as much chance of securing a personal loan as bankrupt Seanie Fitz.

The unions claim that because of the rigorous inspections a taxi is forced to undergo, its age is not important. Indeed, all taxis have an annual NCT for roadworthiness and a separate STS test for standards of quality, comfort and suitability. It serves no purpose for a taxi driver not to look after his or her car -- and livelihood.

And really, do you, as a passenger, really care what reg plate is on the car? For all the short time you spend in the back of one, are you not more concerned about getting safely to your destination, quickly, with a pleasant driver? Do you care if the car is a Toyota or a Merc? Five years old or 10?

Unless the regulator is going to go the whole hog and introduce standardised vehicles (such as the London black cabs or New York yellow cabs) she ought to concentrate on ensuring supply, which is all most of us really care about.

I'm not sure that age in itself is a suitable marker for appropriateness in any event. What of a taxi which is six years old but has 250,000km on the clock. Is that safer than a 10-year-old car with 100,000km? With drivers forced to scrap their cars, what now for those who cannot afford to buy another?

Well, the regulator could make a fund available for loans to drivers if she is so concerned about them having shiny new vehicles. After all, Ms Doyle currently operates a budget surplus of €20m, given the generous fees and charges the office is allowed make and keep, resulting in it being one of the few public bodies in profit.

Is it not far better that a 'scrappage' scheme, similar to but broader ranging and more generous than the one currently available for private drivers, be introduced? That would encourage taxi owners to change their cars more frequently, but not punish those who cannot afford to do so.