I spent a few days in Dublin on business earlier this week. Most of that time was spent trying to avoid the biblical-standard rain that pummelled the city right up until the point my taxi pulled into Dublin Airport for my journey home.
I’ve been back and forth to Dublin quite a bit this year and have developed a bit of a routine: favourite flights, preferred hotel etc. But this trip, I was struck by one thing more than any other: the complete and utter ineptitude of Dublin’s taxi drivers.
But first, I need to put this in context. When I was growing up in Dublin, it sometimes felt like there were perhaps a dozen taxis in the entire city. As a teenager, I lost count of the nights when I had to wait in line for – quite literally – hours on end to get a taxi home from a pub or a club. As a student, it meant long walks home at night.
Drivers would frequently pull up, ask where you wanted to go, and then drive off if they didn’t fancy going there or reckoned it wouldn’t be a profitable enough journey.
There were a limited number of taxi licences and it was effectively a modern-day cartel.
In 1998 Dublin suffered from a distorted licensing system. Demand had doubled in the previous 20 years but the number of licences had not kept up. Waiting times were over an hour. Deregulation in 2000 reduced entry costs (the cost of a car and a licence) by 74%. The result was more than three times as many cabs on the roads, lower waiting times, maintained cab quality and higher passenger satisfaction—all in two years.
My personal experience has been one where, although there are definitely more taxis on the street in Dublin, quality of drivers and service has’t improved. It’s basically dropped.
I took several taxi rides in Dublin this week and each of them was a nightmare in its own little way. One taxi driver felt it okay to spew anti-British rubbish about the quality of the recent Olympic games, another got lost between Dublin Airport and an established City Centre hotel. Another pretended to know where my destination was while frantically checking his sat-nab, then got us lost and had to call the reception of the office I was going to to be guided in.
One felt it appropriate to tell me that my own profession was a waste of time and resources.
All this accompanied by the constant drone from drivers about how hard they have it. Last year I had to listen to a driver complain about how the recent economic crash in Ireland made it impossible for he and his family to enjoy their usual Christmas in the Seychelles. So they were instead going to “slum” it and go to Turkey.
My heart bled for him…
By Wednesday, I felt it easier and quicker to use Dublin’s excellent Luas tram system to get back to my hotel from the suburbs. This despite having to stand in the bucketing rain while waiting for a tram and the walk from the other end to the hotel, all the while in the kind of wind and rain that makes umbrellas pointless and not a little dangerous.
Dublin authorities really need to understand that for visitors to Ireland’s capital, Dublin’s taxi drivers are effectively ambassadors for the city and can leave tourists and business visitors alike with a very negative impression of the brand they are working so hard to improve.
In other words, sort it out.