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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 February, 2003, 19:29 GMT
Taxi insurance costs soaring
BBC Newsline's Tara Mills

Kieran McMahon
Kieran McMahon works longer hours to make ends meet
Kieran McMahon has been a taxi driver in Belfast for two years but the cost of keeping his vehicle on the road is getting out of hand.

He pays 80 a week to lease the car, 97 in depot rent and car insurance of around a 100 a week.

"Last year my insurance was 3,300 and that was for my first year as a taxi driver. I had one accident under that insurance and the premium has gone up to 5000 for third party only."

Keiran is now faced with the prospect of working longer hours just to make ends meet.

He works 12 hours every day, double shifts on Friday and Saturday with only one day off each week.

"It's really hard trying to try to make a living when you're under so much pressure for so much money going out every week let alone trying to get money in," he said.

"There are so many taxi drivers now and so many companies so you're basically fighting for your livelihood."

Little choice for drivers

While the rest of us can shop around if we get a high insurance quote there are only a handful of companies left who are prepared to cover taxis in Northern Ireland.

That lack of competition is leaving drivers with little choice - they can pay the money or change jobs.

Taxi firm owner William McCausland
William McCausland said he was losing drivers
And that is exactly what is happening. Fon a Cab in Belfast has lost several drivers in the last few months because they could not afford to renew their insurance.

Its owner, William McCausland, believes the so-called claim culture is partly to blame.

"Guys have maybe had a small knock at two or three miles an hour and there has been no damage whatsoever to the vehicle. All of a sudden a couple of passengers in the car claim they have a neck injury.

"Then a claim arises out of nothing and the driver goes from a premium of 1,000 to maybe 4,000 or 5,000 which is really unaffordable."

The insurance companies that do cover private taxis have defended their prices.

Jack McIlduff, who owns Insurance Underwriting Services in Belfast, said there were good reasons why the insurance costs a bit more.

"One in three taxis will have an accident against one in seven private cars which is away above the UK average. An average taxi claim will cost 6,000 and there's a number of personal injury claims.

There are fears the high costs will force more drivers underground to operate illegal or pirate taxis.





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