New rules allow taxi firms to charge when there is no passenger in car
Rural taxi companies are to be given permission to charge customers for periods in which there is no passenger in the car, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The move, part of the biggest shake-up in the industry in a generation, aims to resolve the problem of taxis having to travel long distances to pick up countryside customers.
Taxi drivers currently have to travel to collect passengers without payment - in some cases driving further than the job itself. But under the new regulations aimed at solving a problem the industry refers to as 'dead miles', passengers will have to agree to an extra fee.
One MLA called the new system a "messy resolution" and said the problem should have been resolved much sooner. But Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey also admitted that a failure to find a solution to the issue could have meant rural areas being left without a taxi service.
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard said: "The term 'dead miles' refers to the mileage undertaken by the taxi driver to get to a job and/or return to base from a job. Under the previous proposals, drivers were only allowed to charge when the passenger was in the car."
Mr Hussey added: "Unfortunately, despite the Taxis Act being passed in 2008, the subsequent eight years have been marred with delays and one botched regulation after another. The actions of the DUP and Sinn Fein in particular have meant that progress has been stymied.
"Had the issue of dead miles not been resolved, we could have possibly experienced the unacceptable withdrawal of essential taxi services from swathes of rural Northern Ireland.
"The compromise of both passenger and driver agreeing a slightly increased fare in advance should hopefully get the department out of the hole they found themselves in.
"However, there is no doubt it is a messy resolution, with the likelihood of only causing further confusion and unnecessary administration."
A department spokesman said: "The taxi metering requirements came into force on May 31 this year, including the exemption relating to dead miles.
"But following representations from the taxi industry about the lead-in time for the new requirements, enforcement action will now not commence until October 1."