A third of complaints about taxi drivers relate to overcharging, but how do you get your money back? Tina Leonard investigates your options and explores your rights in relation to other complaints about taxis.

A third of complaints about taxi drivers relate to overcharging, but how do you get your money back? Tina Leonard investigates your options and explores your rights in relation to other complaints about taxis.

The recent Primetime Investigates into rogue taxi drivers operating without proper licences or roadworthy vehicles has thrown the spotlight once again on the business.

A government review, announced in the wake of the programme, will look at all aspects including enforcement and licensing.

But what do you do if you have a complaint now?

Complaints

In relation to passenger users’ complaints there is an official complaints procedure run by the Taxi Regulation Directorate of the National Transport Authority.

There is an online complaint form that you can fill in and submit via the website or you can telephone and request a form to be sent to you by post.

(http://taxiregulation.nationaltransport.ie / 1890 60 60 90)

There are specific categories of complaint that can be heard under Section 51 of the Taxi Regulation Act. These are:

  • The condition and cleanliness of the vehicle
     
  • The conduct or behaviour of an SPSV operator or driver
     
  • Overcharging and other matters related to fares
     
  • The hiring of an SPSV (ie a taxi, hackney or limousine)

If the complaint relates to a criminal matter, such as licensing, this is a matter for An Garda Síochana.

Note: The Taxi Regulator will not process complaints submitted anonymously. Also, if the complaint leads to prosecution you may have to appear in court. This deters some complainants and they pull out of the procedure at that stage.

Complaints statistics

In 2010 433 complaints were received and this year, until the end of April, 100 complaints were received.

  • 35% related to the conduct or behaviour of an operator/driver
     
  • 34% related to overcharging / fares issues
     
  • 27% related to the hiring
     
  • 4% related to condition and cleanliness of the vehicle.

What consumers should do:

Get a receipt

The crucial thing in making a complaint is that you have the details of the taxi vehicle and the best way of getting those is to get a receipt. If you ask for one the driver is legally obliged to give it to you and the receipt will contain the following information: the taxi licence number; registration number; the date, start time and end time; breakdown of fare and total charged.

So if you think you are being overcharged for example, or taken the ‘scenic route’, the advice is to pay the fare displayed on the taximeter, including extras, but make sure you get a receipt, so that you can submit a copy of it with your complaint to the Regulator.

If a taxi driver refuses to carry you or won’t because you have a guide dog for example, you’ll have to try and note the 5 digit taxi licence number on the roof sign or the car registration number.

Extra charges

Beware of ‘made up’ extra charges. For example, I heard of a woman who was charged €3 more for a usual route and she was told it was “a Good Friday fee”. This is not allowed but there are specific extra charges that are allowed:

  • €1 for each additional adult.
     
  • Two under 12s are counted as one adult but there is no extra charge for one under 12.
     
  • €2 pick-up charge from a booking (not from a rank including airports)
     
  • Premium rates apply at night-time, Sunday and public holidays (i.e. initial charge is €4.45 rather than €4.10 and higher subsequent charges) and from Christmas Eve to St Stephens Day morning and from New Years Eve to New Years Day morning.
     
  • Road toll charges are added to the fare.
     
  • There should be no extra charge for luggage.

Lost property

If you’ve booked your cab through an operator contact them as soon as possible, as they should be able to help. If the driver can’t return the item to you directly they may hand it in to a Garda station, but most will try and return it to you directly if that is possible. The Gardaí are responsible for lost property handed in by taxi and hackney drivers and they will hang on to it for thirty-one days, so contact your local station.

Accessibility

The Authority maintains a register of all wheelchair-accessible taxis and hackneys. So, if you have difficulty getting an accessible service, they may be able to provide you with contact details for an operator in your area.

Checking licences and fare cost

On the website of the taxi regulator there is an interactive tool where you can check the cost of the fare for a particular journey, by inputting the details of the journey and any extras.

In addition the website includes a public register so you can input the five digit licence number or the vehicle licence registration number to check that the taxi or driver is properly licensed.

When you can be refused carriage

  • Where journeys are greater than 30km
  • If passengers consume food or drink in the vehicle
  • They can refuse to carry or continue to carry, passengers who are acting in a disorderly, abusive or offensive manner
  • They can refuse to carry or continue to carry, passengers who are likely to soil or damage the vehicle.

Otherwise, a driver has to take you.

Enforcement

Enforcement action will result from passenger complaints or from work in the field. There are 9 compliance officers for the whole country. Since the publication of the Finance Act 2010 the Regulator is authorised to share information with Revenue, so that tax returns can be matched in order to prevent double jobbing. Information can also be shared with the Dept of Social Protection.

In addition they co-operate with Gardaí on enforcement activities. This is necessary as only the Gardaí have the power to apprehend a vehicle and they are responsible for the safety of vehicles and the vetting of drivers. They also have the authority to issue fines and apply penalty points.

(I asked the Gardaí for information/statistics on their actions relating to enforcement/penalties against taxi drivers, but haven’t received a response yet).

Outcomes:

Advice is given to the operator / driver

A formal warning is given

Prosecution is initiated

Fixed Charged Penalties

A fixed charge penalty is issued to an SPSV operator by Compliance Officers when an offence has occurred. The list of Fixed Charge Penalties are outlined below and the penalty is a €250 fine.

What taxi drivers were fined for

There were 37 fixed charged penalties issued to date in 2011 ranging from fines for not carrying a guide dog to failing to provide a receipt to a passenger.

15 penalties: Standing for hire in taxi or wheelchair accessible taxi otherwise than at an appointed stand.

8 penalties: Failure to comply with the requirements in relation to the fitting and operation of a taximeter.

4 penalties Failure to operate taximeter while taxi on hire.

3 penalties  Failure to comply with taxi sign requirements (including failure to display current licence number within 28 days of date of issue of new licence number. 2: Operating in county without satisfactory local knowledge.

1 penalty Unreasonable refusal to carry passenger where journey not more than 30 km

1 penalty Standing at appointed stand while vehicle not available for hire.

1 penalty Failure to provide receipt.

1 penalty: Refusal to carry Assistance Dog or Guide Dog in small public service vehicle.

1 penalty: Failure to display required driver identification.

There are other specific instances where fines can be levied including failure to display in-vehicle information or to have the taximeter calibrated, having forged ID and charging a booking fee where it should not be.

Prosecution

Since 2007, 290 drivers were prosecuted and the Authority has prosecuted 22 cases so far this year resulting in 18 convictions. The Probation Act was applied in 4 cases. They related to the following:

8 fines: No drivers licence

8 fines: No vehicle licence

2 fines: Plying for hire at a point other than a stand

1 fine: Overcharging

1 fine Failing to comply with taximeter rules

1 fine Refusal to carry assistance dog

1 fine Obstructing an enforcement officer in carrying out his functions

A taxi driver’s view:

A taxi driver called Brendan Lynch was in touch with me, and regarding enforcement he says:

“Here's the situation - Then, back a few years ago the Carriage Officers were all Gardaí, they knew most of the taxi drivers, and the taxi drivers knew them. If your car had a dented wing or a broken headlight you'd be pulled over, 'spoken to', and maybe your roofsign/dash ID confiscated until you showed up at the carriage office with the car repaired. Then you got your roofsign /dash ID back, and you were back in business !

NOW, these 'enforcment officers' have no power to pull you over, they have to get Gardaí to do that for them, when the Gardaí have time! They seem to focus on petty infringements that the drivers won't challenge in court,( no biro/paper, fire extinguisher wrong size,) but that carry a €250 fine.”

Brendan also says the following:

“When you enter a taxi it is like entering a prison cell with a stranger, the problem is customers routinely do this without thinking, and only regret it when it's too late.”

He suggests that if you feel uneasy about the driver, first type in his driver number into your mobile. Then ask the driver to pull over at a shop saying you have to but something. When outside note the 5-digit roof sign number, then tell him you don’t need to further and pay the fare. Then call the Gardaí and/or the Regulator.