379. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps being taken to protect and ensure the safety of taxi drivers in view of reports of alleged assaults following the refusal to pay fares; if he is satisfied that legal protections for all public transport workers are adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31394/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Firstly, I must clarify that the provision of quality services by small public service (SPSV) drivers, while having due regard to their protection, is an objective of the National Transport Authority (NTA) under section 19(2)(e) of the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 and is therefore within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
However, I am informed that An Garda Síochána has advised the Taxi Regulation Directorate (within the NTA) on what to do in the event of crime perpetrated against a SPSV operator and has provided consultation to the NTA in developing a Skills Development Programme for SPSV operators. The programme outlines the steps SPSV operators can take to make life safer, more secure and compliant with current health and safety legislation, and there is a specific section on looking after their personal security.
Separately, I am informed that all taxi drivers, as part of their initial training and preparation for examinations, are provided with the Official Manual for Operating within the SPSV Industry. This manual is produced by the NTA in consultation with the Garda Crime Prevention Unit and contains a chapter entitled Staying Safe. The chapter offers a range of information and suggestions on how to deal with difficult customers or dangerous situations. This includes suggestions on taking extra care in isolated areas, making eye contact with the customer when the customer gets into the car, and arranging a code word with the dispatch operator or a colleague that can be used in communication with them if danger is perceived.
Information regarding ways to reduce the risk of robbery is also provided. An Garda Síochána has recommended that taxi drivers:
- avoid carrying large sums of cash where possible;
- not show, or tell, customers how much cash they have and be discrete with their cash when giving a customer change;
- not display valuables; and,
- lock their vehicles while in isolated areas or waiting for a customer to arrive.
An Garda Síochána also advises that taxi drivers who have been the victims of robbery or fare evasion should not chase the perpetrators because this might put their
personal safety at further risk. In addition, it is advised that taxi drivers should not take any action that might be deemed to be illegal or, again, put themselves at risk, such as detaining a passenger by force. The advice from An Garda Síochána to taxi drivers is to make contact immediately on 999 or 112 if they have been the victim of an assault, robbery or fare evasion and, if safe to do so, remain at that location until Gardaí arrive.
Finally, matters relating to legal protections for public transport workers would generally fall to my colleague, Minister Ross, at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.