Overcharging accounted for nearly half of complaints to taxi regulator
A Derry taxi driver has spoken of the current challenges facing the industry and how he goes to bed every night praying he hasn’t infected his family.
His comments come after Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon penned an open letter to taxi drivers saying she is working with other government departments to protect drivers at this time.
Legislation is being drafted so that within the coming days an extension to the Public Service Vehicle (PSV) testing period can be granted. "This will be one less thing for you to worry about as you continue to work," she says.
Department for Infrastructure (DfI) officials are also working hard to find solutions to licensing and other regulation related challenges arising from this crisis.
Separately, the Department for the Economy is said to be working on social distancing guidance to help keep drivers and passengers safe.
Another government department, that for communities, is examining the possibility of utilising taxis in emergency efforts to deliver food.
However, some Derry taxi drivers are sceptical and believe that more should have been done when the crisis first emerged.
One driver, who did not want to be named, told the Derry News he prays every night that he doesn’t pass the deadly virus on to his family and because there is ‘no testing’ he will never know.
“I have been a taxi driver for over 20 years, what is going on now is something that I could never have imagined, but the people in power knew about this for months,” he said.
“I am told I'm a key worker, but every day I work I pray that I don't get infected and pass on the virus to my family, and I can't be tested because there is no testing.
“With regard to the DVA, they closed the test centre without any notice and therefore left drivers high and dry with no explanation.”
Like many other workers, drivers are struggling to access financial support, he explained: “It took over a week for the DVA to send out a letter to tell us we're doing a great job and that they are still discussing what to do for us.
“We can't even apply to get our cars tested as it can't be done online, and any driver who decided to stop working gets nothing, can't even get through to universal credit to try and get something.”
While he welcomed the extension of PSV testing, he stressed the need for ‘clarity’ in the case of drivers who were in the process of getting their car tested and are now ‘left in limbo’.
Social distancing ‘can't be done’, in his view, and drivers are being forced to source their own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
On some occasions customers are actually ‘insulted’ when drivers arrive wearing a mask and gloves and have even refused to sit in the back of the car when asked to do so.
More hurdles have to be overcome when it comes to the prospect of delivering food and other essential goods - which has been suggested as a way of getting drivers back to work - as taxi insurance does not allow drivers to carry food.
“Drivers can individually call their insurance companies and do this, but some have said no, so we would need that clarified,” he added.
However, he did suggest that drivers could support supermarkets which are being overwhelmed by orders and now have delivery backlogs. All drivers are vetted by both the police and DVA and also carry ID.
In her letter to drivers, DfI Minister Mallon made clear that her responsibility for taxis only extends to the regulation of the industry,
“I am very aware of the increasing financial hardships this crisis is creating; with my Executive colleagues I pushed hard to secure the self-employed financial package announced by the British Government last week.
“While it’s not perfect, it will go some way to helping self-employed people, like those within the taxi industry, to help put food on the table and pay bills. With Executive colleagues, I will continue to press for more assistance.”
She added: “With the numbers of taxi journeys greatly reducing, there is also now a real opportunity for taxi drivers to explore how they can play their part in taking the pressure off our vital services by helping the most vulnerable in our communities.
“To look at, for example, opportunities for delivering food and vital supplies or to get patients to essential appointments.
“To help progress this, I have raised this with Executive colleagues to examine how taxis can be re-purposed to support the emergency efforts.
“I am pleased to tell you that my officials are already working together with the Department for Communities and, through them, local government to explore how this can be done.”
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