Can’t get a taxi? No wheelchair taxis available when you need one? Paying too much for your taxi at peak times?


Here are the reasons why.

Two years ago, on 9th December 2020, representatives from the taxi industry presented to the Committee for Infrastructure seeking support for the sector, and changes to the way it is regulated. As part of our presentation, we gave the following warning

“If our efforts for support are unsuccessful, what happens next? Well as we have already said some depots have already closed, others are close (to closing) and some have delayed further redundancies in the hope that things will improve but now there is little positivity in the sector for the future.

Services will be curtailed, sponsorship in local communities cut, charitable activity culled. Fewer taxis to welcome tourists when the market returns, more pressure on our health service to provide secondary services.

Who provides transport for wheelchair users and passengers with sight difficulties and guide dogs? Who services rural areas that other transport operators cannot? One commentator on social media even went as far as to suggest an increase in drink driving when there’s no one to get you home after the pub.” “Not supporting the operators will lead to a rise in unregulated taxis and the many associated issues which we hoped had been left in the past. They will not contribute and invest in our communities. It may ultimately mean than when we have a return to normality in society there may not be a taxi sector to return to.”

Unfortunately, due to inaction and intransigence on the part of the Department for Infrastructure, and successive Ministers for Infrastructure, we have been proved right. In the two years since this warning was made.

  1. There are now 1290 fewer taxi licences, now 8077 in total
  2. Of these 8077, DFI stated in August that only 6218 are active (affiliated to an Operator’s licence)
  3. There are 61 fewer taxi operators, now 1260 in total
  4. There are 1895 fewer licenced taxis, now 6828 in total
  5. The pass rate for the taxi theory test remains unacceptably low at 22.2% compared to other licence types

So why does this matter?

There are simply now too few taxis / taxi drivers to meet passenger demand across Northern Ireland especially during anti-social hours at evenings and weekends, and the industry is finding it difficult to recruit more because of the licence testing regime despite high levels of interest.

This results in passengers being unable to book, delays for passengers who have booked, and a free for all for those passengers trying to hail taxis at peak times with the price bartering that occurs when taxis are in such short supply

Most taxi drivers are self-employed in Northern Ireland and many of them, like the rest of society, have looked at their work life balance during the Pandemic. Drivers have decided it is not worth their while driving the extra hours especially evenings and weekends on the current DFI fare structure when there are additional challenges for working these hours.

So how do we fix this?

As an industry, our proposals to the Department are consistent and well documented

  1. We need more drivers, but becoming a driver is too expensive and too complicated for the needs of the job. A theory test pass rate of only 22.2% compared to significantly higher rates for other licence types cannot simply be down to the abilities of the prospective taxi driver. We have asked the DFI for the testing process to be temporarily rolled back to where it was in 2013 to allow driver numbers to recover (In other words, the standards that 85% of the drivers who are currently working today have) This is not deregulation, rather drivers will still need three years driving experience on a standard licence, pass a medical and an Advanced Access NI (Repute test)
  2. The DFI need to close the “Class C loophole” There are some taxi operators licenced under Class C, a division never intended for taxis. Class C fares are unregulated, and in a time of high demand this results in price surging and excessive, but still legal prices for the passenger. Surging fares from Class C taxi operators promote a culture of overcharging / higher prices among drivers. The DFI should close Class C to taxis, and regulate all taxi operators and drivers in the same way.
  3. Purchasing, maintaining, and operating a wheelchair capable vehicle costs significantly more than a standard taxi. While the costs are much higher for the driver, the fares that they are able to charge are the same. We do not advocate charging users of these vehicles a higher tariff, but we have asked the DFI to provide compensation to drivers of these vehicles so that they are not financially disadvantaged for doing so. This was proposed as part of the industry response to the 2021/2 DFI Taxi Tariff Consultation which remains unpublished.
  4. The DFI need to complete the outstanding 2021/2 Taxi Tariff Consultation. While there was a stop gap increase to fares in 2021, this was the first increase to the maximum tariff in ten years. It was insufficient to compensate drivers then for their increased costs over this period and has since been swallowed up by the cost of living crisis experienced this year. If fares are allowed to increase at a satisfactory rate, particularly at peak times, more drivers will work these periods and with more driver supply, the occurrences of price bartering / surging will reduce. As a comparison, Northern Ireland currently ranks 281st of all the UK regions for average taxi fare (Source Private Hire Taxi Monthly League Tables ) which would suggest that passengers here are paying less for their taxis than the majority of passengers across the UK. Our research suggests that passengers would prefer to pay a little more for a taxi at peak times to improve service, and to avoid being subject to surge pricing.
  5. Enforcement. Taxi drivers and operators who work within the metered fare structure do not condone the activities of those who work outside it, whatever the reason for doing so.

Operators have been working with the DVA (who are the agency responsible for enforcement of taxi regulations) to increase enforcement activity to reduce illegal pickups from the street and price haggling. Current legislation allows taxi drivers to pick up off the street at certain times of the week (Friday and Saturday nights) This means that companies can be left with fewer drivers for pre booked jobs for loyal customers during these periods. The ability to flag a taxi down during these hours also leads to customers bidding higher amounts than the metered fare to “jump the queue” and this encourages higher prices and bartering.

It is a challenging task for the DVA to enforce legislation in these circumstances as it can be difficult to identify which drivers are collecting a customer legally and which are not.

When will this improve?

The taxi industry is doing everything it can to address these issues, particularly in bringing more drivers into the sector. We have responded to the DFI fare consultation with our proposals and we continue to engage with the DVA on driver enforcement. Operators are continually recruiting for more drivers and there is no lack of interest in the roles, rather a DFI blockage in getting new drivers through the licencing process.

Taxi operators have a business model where their income increases when the number of drivers they have increases – In other words it is in our interest to have more drivers and address these problems, but there is only so much we can do within the current legislation and in the absence of an Assembly.

Unfortunately, until we have an Infrastructure Minister in post, and one who is prepared to address these chronic problems, nothing will happen quickly, if at all If you are struggling to get a taxi this Christmas think of the reasons and warnings from the industry and remember who, and what has caused this and their ongoing unwillingness and inability to fix it.

What can Passengers do to make getting a taxi easier?

Passengers can improve their chances of getting a taxi and help other passengers improve theirs with a few small actions.

  • Book your taxi if you can.
    We appreciate that APPS and Contact Centres can be busy, but if you can book in advance you should. Booking in advance means that while there may still be the possibility of a delay at busy times, your booking is in the system and should be honoured. Booking also encourages more drivers to work on the taxi operator’s system and increases availability for everyone. Operators give priority to bookings made in advance, those booked more than 24 hours in advance receive the highest priority.
  • Be flexible.
    If you are trying to book from a very busy area and are finding that the taxi companies are booked out, moving to a quieter area may allow you to book. Many taxi companies split their working areas into zones and while one busy zone may be booked out, a neighbouring quieter zone may have availability.
  • Cancel your taxi if you don’t need it.
    Cancelling your taxi means it is freed up for another passenger. It also means that the driver does not have a wasted journey using up their fuel and time coming to you if you don’t need them. If you don’t cancel and “No show” your taxi, this can affect your “score” on many taxi dispatch systems making it potentially more difficult for you to get a taxi in future. At peak times, taxi systems give priority to customers who are more likely to complete their journey.
  • Don’t book with more than one taxi company for the same journey.
    Some Passengers think they are increasing their chances of getting a taxi by booking multiple taxis from different companies and taking the first one that arrives. All this does is tie up taxis that could be going to other passengers (including you), increase no shows and potentially reduces your chances of getting a taxi from these companies in the future.
  • Don’t book from inaccessible or difficult to access locations if you can avoid it.
    For example, one way streets or pedestrianised areas.
  • Be at the pickup point at the collection time.
    This might sound obvious, but while drivers will normally wait for five minutes past the booked time and will call you to make sure you are coming, they will not wait if you are going to be longer or if there is a suggestion you are not coming at all. “I’ve just ordered another pint” is not a valid reason for a driver to wait
  • Check your notifications.
    Most taxi operators use dispatch systems which send the passenger notifications via text message or WhatsApp to update them on the status on their booking. Drivers will also call passengers if they cannot find them. If your driver is on their way please be there to meet them as it may not be possible to stop or wait at your chosen pick up location.
  • Do not offer Drivers more than the metered fare to “Jump the queue”
    Passengers who haggle / barter with drivers and offer them more than the metered fare to get them to accept their journey rather than the drivers prebooked customer cause many problems – for the passenger who has booked the taxi and for other passengers as they are normalising price bartering. Passengers who are unhappy with drivers who have quoted more than the metered rate can report them by giving the drivers details to the DVA who are responsible for enforcement
  • Be patient.
    This is a busy time of the year, and even if things go as planned there can still be delays, especially at peak times when everyone is trying to get home. We ask you to be patient, conscious of others and not to take any frustrations out on either contact centre staff or drivers who are doing their best to help you. Many taxi companies will ban unruly customers for severe or repeated bad behaviour, something which no one wants.