LISTOWEL Town Council's planned taxi ranks would be the final nail in the coffin for the town's 30 hackney drivers and will put every last one out of business, a representative claimed this week.

Joe Hanlon, who has been a hackney driver in Listowel for over 25 years, says he and his colleagues are extremely worried about the council's plans to introduce three taxi ranks in the town - a two car rank at Church Street, a one-car rank Bridge Street and another at William Street, which would operate from 6pm to 6am.

Mr Hanlon was speaking after Monday night's meeting of Listowel Town Council where, after almost an hour of discussion, it was agreed the plans would go out for public consultation within the coming fortnight and a decision be taken on the matter in early February.

A number of local hackney drivers attended the meeting to hear the views of the councillors, the majority of whom were opposed to setting up permanent taxi ranks within the town.

"The town is absolutely dying and if this goes ahead we'll die with it," said Mr Hanlon. "There are 35 operators in town and 30 of those are hackneys and this is our only source of income. If taxis are allowed to come in from all over and line up on the street there is no doubt that they will simply shove us out of business."

Mr Hanlon explained that while taxis can line up in ranks and tout for business, hackneys drivers operate from their base - usually their home - and have to be called to a fare. To make the switch from hackney to taxi would cost in the region of €22,000, he said.

A number of councillors expressed serious reservations about the plans and asked that they be shelved. Many expressed concern about the effect the plans would have on the livelihoods of the local hackney drivers.

Cllr Maria Gorman said that the local drivers basically rely on two busy night a week to make their money, and to allow outside taxis come in and take their business is not a good idea.

"We have people here whose livelihood depend on this. Why should we put them out," she said.

Cllr Mike Kennelly agreed, saying the proposed plans would upset a lot more people than it would benefit. Cllr Denis Stack said it would be 'foolish' to proceed with the plans, saying he was not in a position to 'take the bite out of anybody's mouth.'

While agreeing that the livelihoods of the local hacnkey drivers should be protected, Cllr Tom Walsh and Cllr Tim O'Leary asked that the plans be put out for consultation so that members could make a more informed decision when all submissions have been received.

It was eventually agreed that the plans should be put out on public display and that members would vote on the issue when all submissions are received.

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