Monday, November 30, 2009

A tale of two taxis

Taxi drivers as a profession are not the most popular. They are probably up there with politicians, bankers and tax collectors. However I have come across quite a few decent taxi drivers in my time. However I have also come across obnoxious, ignorant taxi drivers who expect consumers to put up with dirty, smelly taxis, who expect you to direct them to your destination and who never carry any change. And don't start me with printed receipts...."oh the machine is broken"....and "do you have a pen I will write one out for you" As a native, I generally don't have to worry about being taken on the scenic route, but when abroad there are times when you know you are being taken for a ride in more ways than one!

Some in the taxi business will say the problems here are a result of the liberalisation of the trade, and the fact that part timers and unsuitable people have started to drive taxis. However as someone who remembers the bad old day when taxis were like hens teeth, we can never go back to the way things were. I remember waiting at a taxi rank in Dublin for about 3 hours one dark and cold November night in 1999. Quantity and quality should not be mutually exclusive.

Anyhow in recent weeks I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. I encountered a taxi driver who was polite, who didn't need directions, who took me via the shortest route, who had change and who printed off a receipt. And he didn't insist on talking ad nausem and telling me his opinions on what was wrong with the world!

Then 2 weeks ago on the way home from the airport, I encountered another kind of taxi driver. Car was clean and he didn't need directions to Ashbourne. Great I thought, its almost midnight and I can sit back and relax after a long flight. However when we left the first roundabout out of the airport, I noticed that he was taking the motorway and I asked him why he wasn't taking normal way to Ashbourne via the old airport road and Kilshane Cross. He tried to brush it off and I assumed he was taking another shortcut further up the road. However further into the journey I realised he was taking me the long way home to Ashbourne. I questioned him again and then he became angry and told me if I didn't like the way he was going he would drop me back at the airport. He also told me amazingly that the other road which is used by tens of thousands of vehicles everyday and which I almost everyone else from Ashbourne and beyond uses to get to the airport was dangerous.

Thankfully my experience didn't come to this!

I was annoyed but didn't see the point in having a blazing row. To be honest was also concerned that he just might stop and leave me stranded on the M50. So I politely told him I was unhappy and would be reporting my complaint to the taxi regulator. The rest of the journey home was not too pleasant and a very silent one. On arrival home I got my receipt and paid up.

Sometimes we get mad and do nothing. I have had bad experiences with taxis before, but haven't complained. Life is too short. But this was too much for me. I have since made my complaint to the Commission for Taxi Regulation and have got a acknowledgement. While their complaint form is online, you cannot submit the complaint online, instead you have to type it up and post it off. Hopefully they will move to an online system to make it easier for consumers to complain in the future.

As far as I am concerned, the driver added about 4km to my journey and probably about €4-€5 to the fare. However more concerning for me was his aggressive behaviour, which was totally unacceptable and unnerving. I look forward to hearing from the regulator in due course and will keep you posted!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Not the mighty Quinn!

Despite all the spin from the Irish Government, the appointment of Maire Geoghegan Quinn as Research and Innovation Commissioner is a third tier appointment far removed from the plum post we got with McCreevy as Internal Market Commissioner in 2004. The disappointing appointment is probably a reflection of the fact that McCreevy has not done well in Brussels and that Ms Geoghegan Quinn despite being a formidable Minister in the 1980s and 1990s has not been a front line politician for over 13 years.

The new Commission is a reflection also of the changed environment. The appointments of Barnier, Almunia, Oettinger and Rehn as Internal Market, Competition, Energy and Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioners respectively is a repudiation of Le Monde Anglo-Saxon and the free market approach that dominated the first Barroso Commission epitomised by Champagne Charlie. It is good to see that consumer rights are more pronounced in the statements from Barroso prior to his re-appointment in September 2009.

What does the EU do for consumers anyway?

From a consumer prospective, we have a new Commissioner Mr John Dalli from Malta. In the last Commission the Health and Consumers portfolios were divided from 2007 when Bulgaria and Romania joined, however he takes up the post with the two parts of the job reunited. He has a hard act to follow coming after Ms Kuneva who was very active on consumer issues during her mandate. I know quite a few people from Malta and they were all very pleasant, friendly and practical people. And of course like Ireland, Malta was part of the British Empire, so their political and legal system has many similarities with Ireland and the UK. In relation to the draft Consumer Rights Directive he may be more amenable than Kuneva who appeared determined to bring in changes that would not always be good for consumers.

Apart from the appointment of Commissioners and their portfolios, Barroso made a number of changes to the portfolios. For example BEUC have been calling for a number of years for the units in the EU Commission dealing with pharmaceutical products and cosmetics to be moved from the Enterprise and Industry Directorate to the Health and Consumer Directorate. The good news is that Barroso has finally agreed to do this.

I wish Commissioner Dalli well in the new role.