Alex Edet and Victor Maduchi are sitting in the office of their garage in Blanchardstown. A little heater on the wall is turned up to high to battle the cold, damp day.
Both originally from Nigeria, they have managed and worked at the garage for the past 11 years. Many of their customers are taxi drivers – and both have considered getting into the trade.
Neither had heard about the yellow bumper stickers that have been popping up on a few taxis recently, spotted by some of the ethnic-minority taxi drivers around, and shared in WhatsApp groups.
The stickers reference media reports from last month of a Garda operation that reportedly found people driving taxis who did not have the legal status to be in Ireland. The stickers say there are “more to come”.
But Edet and Maduchi have heard about a lot of other things from their taxi-driver clients over the years. Stories, mostly, about antisocial behaviour and attacks by passengers.
They have also heard about territorial behaviour at taxi ranks, which makes it “very difficult for black guys to queue at taxi ranks”, Edet says.
Maduchi says that, in general, there is a stigma against “black taxi drivers”.
There have been a few high-profile taxi-related stories in the news recently.
Among them was the one last month about how, as part of an ongoing investigation into taxi licensing and immigration statuses called “Operation Vantage”, the Garda National Immigration Bureau had searched ten residential properties in Dublin.
As of mid-March, Gardaí had counted 134 cases where the immigration status of public service vehicle licence holders or applicants was being investigated and “of concern”.
After reports about this, some taxi drivers started to notice a few of those yellow bumper stickers popping up.
Edet says the stickers might be a kind of “guerrilla marketing” for some taxi drivers to get more customers at the expense of others.
They’re using the issue of some people who are under suspicion of immigration violations to say, “Oh, all foreigners, don’t get into their cars. They are scammers. Stick with us,” he says.
Edet thinks the NTA “should look into this”.
Shane O’Curry of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) says stickers like this have appeared on taxis before.
“In the midst of those scandals, those kinds of myths about ethnic-minority drivers are quite prevalent and have been around awhile,” he says. “There have been bumper stickers in the past and friction at the taxi ranks.”
While O’Curry hasn’t heard about these particular bumper stickers, and none have been logged on ENAR’s iReport system, he says stickers like this “are very worrying”.
O’Curry says racist rhetoric and attacks on minority drivers “would make drivers very understandably nervous about what might and could happen to them. This creates stress and anxiety. It will impact on their work patterns and make them more reluctant to pick up fares to and from certain areas at certain times of day”.
In 2015, the Immigrant Council of Ireland published a study on racism in the taxi industry. According to drivers in their focus groups, some taxi ranks were perceived as being only for “white drivers”.
Drivers also reported that “rumors and false accusations are being used by some non-ethnic minority drivers deliberately as a means of control within the industry”, the report says.
Based on the results of the project, the Immigrant Council recommended that authorities introduce policies, procedures, and training to challenge racism and discrimination, including a state-led reporting facility.
The report recommended that the NTA introduce “policies and procedures that would effectively tackle racist and discriminatory conduct of other taxi drivers”.
Who’s the Regulator?
The National Transport Authority (NTA) is the licensing authority for taxi vehicles, while An Garda Síochána licenses drivers.
The authority should give “due regard” to protecting customers and providers alike in its quest to provide a quality taxi service, says the code of conduct in the Taxi Regulations Act 2013.
Taxis can’t be “used to display inappropriate advertising, slogans or images”, it also says.
There are rules for the type, size and location of advertising material allowed outside taxis, it also says on the NTA’s website.
The rules contain recommendations from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, including: “Be sensitive as to what you display on your vehicle – pictures, signs, and slogans that are racist or capable of inciting hatred are illegal, and those that you find amusing may not be amusing to others, or may be completely inappropriate.”
So the rules are there, but who enforces them?
In 2014, a group of minority taxi drivers wrote to the NTA asking what might be done about customers who seemed to skip the first taxi available at the rank sometimes, because of the ethnicity of the driver.
In response, the NTA said that “this issue is a societal issue rather than a taxi regulation issue, and it does not seem appropriate to restrict valid choice for the vast majority of passengers due to the behaviour of a small number of those passengers”.
Who’s Representing Ethnic-Minority Taxi Drivers?
Every year, since 2013, the NTA and the Immigrant Council of Ireland have run campaigns to tackle racism on public transport. The latest one launched in August 2018.
According to an NTA spokesperson, “Our anti-racism campaigns have been for all public transport modes including taxi. Taxi drivers have participated in media launches and photo-shoots for those campaigns.”
The spokesperson said he hadn’t seen the 2014 letter and so he wasn’t sure about the context.
“Legislation doesn’t give us enforcement powers over passengers when it comes to their behaviour and attitudes. That would be a matter for An Garda Síochána,” he said.
A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána didn’t directly address queries about whether it has the power, and what it has done, to alleviate racial tensions in the taxi industry.
Instead, they sent back information on how a taxi passenger can make a complaint about their driver.
In response to the news from Operation Vantage, the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation, the main organisation representing taxi drivers in Ireland, proposed banning people arriving in Ireland from getting a taxi licence for their first five years here.
Federation president Joe Herron says their reasoning had nothing to do with racism. That five years would give Gardaí time to obtain all the documents needed for vetting potential taxi drivers from outside the EU, he said.
Herron says he hasn’t seen the yellow bumper stickers on any taxis lately, but he doesn’t think they’re a good thing to have and hopes none of the federation’s members have them.
He also said people shouldn’t blame all white taxi drivers for something only a few people are doing.
“To be perfectly honest, I think, generally speaking, taxi drivers get on together whether they’re Irish or non-national … ,” he says. “I don’t see any great problem as far as racism is concerned.”
Some ethnic-minority taxi drivers in Dublin say they have informal WhatsApp groups – including Indian groups and Nigerian groups – but that they haven’t organised into a wider group to represent their interests.
Finding a Way Forward
“The first thing is, the industry needs to acknowledge that there’s a problem of friction along racial lines,” O’Curry says.
O’Curry says he encourages drivers to log any racist incidents at ENAR’s online system iReport.ie
He says it’s “not uncommon” for minorities to hesitate about reporting racist incidents “for all kinds of reasons”. But the log helps ENAR build up an evidence base so they can make reports.
O’Curry says stronger leadership from the NTA might help, though the NTA doesn’t employ drivers directly.
“But there needs to be some kind of leadership to address a problem that’s endemic in the thing,” he says.
O’Curry says work needs to be done with taxi drivers’ associations and the NTA to look at challenges facing the industry as a whole and acknowledge that all drivers come under stress and pressure.
O’Curry suggests that the NTA and taxi associations could have a conference about the issues facing all taxi drivers. This could give them a chance to “reassure themselves the causes of these problems are not minority taxi drivers, migrant taxi drivers. The problems are the same problems faced by all taxi drivers.”
“Minority drivers are their allies in that respect,” O’Curry said.
Back at the garage in Blanchardstown, Alex Edet says he wants to become a taxi driver himself.
Maduchi, though, has thought about it, talked to his wife about it, and decided not to.
“I think it’s not safe,” he says, based on what he’s heard from customers.
Edet says he would go into the taxi industry prepared, because he’s heard so much about it.
“I have to be very careful who I pick up, I have to be very selective, I need to know some areas I wouldn’t go, and then I don’t need to go to the wrong area … so those are my defence,” Edet says.
Maduchi says that “doesn’t sound like a solution to the problem”. “The solution is that the government should do more to protect the foreign drivers,” he says.
The NTA spokesperson said the body is “planning an awareness campaign aimed at highlighting the need for respect for all taxi drivers in the industry. That campaign will be live in the next week or two.”