I am delighted to be here today to officially open the Taxi O4 Exhibition.
Firstly, I would like to extend apologies on behalf of my colleague Séamus Brennan T.D., Minister for Transport, who was to have opened the exhibition. Unfortunately, due to EU Presidency commitments the Minister is unable to attend today.
The Taxi Company Owners Association is to be congratulated for organising this event. The Association, since its formation in 2002, has made great advances in having the voice of taxi company owners heard, and in seeking to promote improved standards and a professional approach to taxi business. This exhibition is further proof of its commitment to enhance the industry.
In recent years the importance of taxis as part of our public transport system has increased, reflecting a number of factors including economic growth, business and tourism demands and public awareness through road safety campaigns as part of the Government's Strategy for Road Safety. Taxis form a critical element of the transport system particularly in urban areas.
There is no reason why the use of taxis cannot be increased further and a culture of taxi use developed as exists in other countries. To help develop such a culture, the Government is committed to improving standards and the level of service in the taxi industry.
I would like to take this opportunity to mention some recent developments in this regard. A major step was the enactment of the Taxi Regulation Act in July of last year. This Act provides that for the first time the industry will have its own Commission for Taxi Regulation to oversee the development and improvement of the services provided by taxis, hackneys and limousines in this country to the mutual benefit of both service providers and users alike.
The Commission will be an independent public body and its principal function will be the development and maintenance of a new regulatory framework for the control and operation of small public service vehicles and their drivers. In exercising this function the Commission will pursue a range of objectives which will be focused on the promotion of quality oriented services by all small public service vehicle operators and drivers. This will be based primarily on the deployment of new qualitative standards to be applied to the licensing and ongoing operation of small public service vehicles and their drivers with a focus on the enhancement of customer services.
A competition to recruit a Commissioner for Taxi Regulation to head up the new Commission is currently being progressed by the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission. It is hoped that an appointment to the post will be made in the coming months.
The Taxi Regulation Act 2003 also provided for the establishment of an Advisory Council to the Commission for Taxi Regulation to advise both the Commission for Taxi Regulation and the Minster for Transport, as appropriate, on issues relevant to small public service vehicles and their drivers.
Minister Brennan established the Advisory Council on the 4th of November 2003. The Council is chaired by Mr. Pat Byrne the former Garda Commissioner and has 17 ordinary members. In line with the requirements of the Act, membership of the Council is drawn from the taxi, hackney and limousine industry, local authorities, An Garda Síochána, consumer, disability, tourism and business interests. I am pleased to note that Ms Denise Kinahan of the Taxi Company Owners Association is a member of the Council. The Minister has indicated that he is particularly interested in the advice of the Council on issues relating to quality enhancement and standards for small public service vehicles and their drivers, including general vehicle condition and appearance, accessibility, standard vehicle colour for taxis and driver training.
I understand that the Council has already met twice and further meetings are planned in the near future.
Turning again to the purpose of my visit here today, I would like to welcome this initiative by the Taxi Company Owners Association, which brings together many aspects of the taxi trade in particular, with the aim of promoting a more positive image of the industry. It is important that initiatives such as this should take place and it is particularly welcome to see an initiative sponsored and supported by individuals and groups within the industry itself. I understand that the TCOA is anxious to expand and to recruit taxi company owners nationwide and this is to be welcomed to facilitate awareness of specific regional issues within the industry.
Finally, I would like to again congratulate the Taxi Company Owners Association on their organisation of this exhibition. I thank them for their invitation to attend here today and I now declare the exhibition officially open.