HACKNEY drivers in Abbeyfeale have said that illegal, unlicensed taxi drivers operating in the town are placing their livelihoods at risk.
Complaints have been made to both the gardai and the taxi regulator about a small number of “brazen” people who have been parking in taxi ranks, soliciting customers and charging fares without a licence or insurance, and often while simultaneously claiming the dole.
Legitimate hackney drivers in the West Limerick town now fear that this black market activity will escalate further unless the culprits are caught.
Sean O’Donoghue of Shamrock Cabs, who has driven a hackney in Abbeyfeale since 1993, said that illegal taxi drivers have been working in the town for years.
“There was always a little bit of it, but it’s gotten out of hand. There are four or five of us here who’ve gotten sick of it. It’s been going on for about five years, big time.
“These fellas are pulling up right in front of us, loading up their cars and heading off. If we tell someone it costs €7 to head out somewhere, these lads will come along and charge €5. The fella in the pub doesn’t care who drops him home.”
Gerard Hickey, another Abbeyfeale-based hackney driver, described the culprits as “opportunists” who have shown little regard for the law.
“This has been going on for years. But things are tightening up, and the honest taxi drivers trying to earn a living are paying for it. We’ve been on to the gardai, but what they’ll tell you is unless you actually see money changing hands, you can’t prove it.”
Ger Foley, another hackney driver, said that the people responsible are “sticking two fingers up” at licensed hackney operators, who are now struggling to make ends meet.
“There’s one fella sitting inside in his car in the square doing this seven days a week. They’re sticking two fingers up to the law, and two fingers up to the rest of us as well. We’ve said it to the guards, and they’ve stopped a few of them, but whenever they talk to them the lads just deny it.”
Mr O’Donoghue said that complaints have been made to both the gardai and the taxi regulator’s office at the National Transport Authority, but these have so far yielded few results. He said that this black market trade undercuts licensed operators and is pushing them to near breaking point.
“These fellas are all on the dole. If I don’t get any business, at the end of the week I still have to feed my family and pay my mortgage. These lads can just pick up their €200 or whatever it is they’re getting off the dole. We have to pay for everything”, Mr O’Donoghue said.
Supt Dan Flavin of Newcastle West gardai said that while illegal taxis are not a widespread problem, the concerns of hackney drivers in Abbeyfeale have been brought to their attention. He said that investigations into the practice are conducted jointly with the taxi regulator, and added that anyone with concerns or information should contact Abbeyfeale garda station on 068 30010 or Newcastle West on 069 20650.
* For more on this story see Limerick Leader county and west editions