Poll: Belfast taxi drivers want bus lane use to be permanent - do you agree?
But cycling campaigner says it's a sign of desperation
Taxi drivers have launched a bid to allow them to use Belfast bus lanes on a permanent basis.
A Department of infrastructure 12-week trial is underway allowing taxis to use the lanes in order to allow them to bypass traffic. It ends on May 14 when the results will be analysed.
Bosses at a number of private hire firms, including Fona Cab, Gransha Taxis, Knock Cabs, 24/7 Cabs, Value Cabs and Cedar Cabs, have said during the trial they have noticed traffic improving during the trial.
However, one cycling campaigner says they have little hope in swaying government official's minds on the matter and the long term effects of allowing taxis to use the lanes will slow travel across Belfast down.
William McCausland, owner of one of the city's biggest companies Fona Cab said he was "confident" the trail will show it is right for taxis to use the lanes.
"We can already see the benefits," he said.
"Traffic is moving quicker. Congestion has reduced. Ordinary commuter’s car journeys are taking less time. In the bus lanes the transition has been smooth.
This is a vital public service that taxis are performing every day. William McCausland
"The increased regulation, testing, and training of taxi drivers has ensured that our drivers treat road users with respect and are conscious of ensuring safety at all times.
"Allowing taxis into bus lanes also means customers are getting their taxi sooner, reaching their destination quicker, and paying less for their fare.Taxi drivers are now completing more journeys every day and customers are benefiting."
He added: "People who use taxis to get to hospital appointments and who are unable to walk to the main road to stand at a bus stop are able to get to where they need to be quicker.
"This is a vital public service that taxis are performing every day. Taxis being allowed to use the bus lanes means people using our service are not missing hospital appointments because they are stuck in traffic.
"Taxis in bus lanes has also led to a reduction in traffic within residential areas situated off main roads. Added to that are the benefits to the environment of reducing congestion on Belfast roads.
"We would ask the Department to take all these benefits of keeping taxis in bus lanes into account."
A decade of research says allowing private taxis to have run of bus lanes will have long-term negative effects. Jonathan Hobbs
Cycling campaigner, Jonathan Hobbs who writes at Bikefast.org said: "The private taxi industry is either confused or worried - the 12 week trial is being used to gather hard evidence, real world observations and data on bus lane usage. It looks like a sign of desperation to be firing out transparently one-sided press releases, declaring some unquantifiable success, after just five weeks.
"The department has already confirmed that the trial will end on May 14. Research will then be concluded, consultations undertaken, effects will be measured and hard evidence will inform decisions.
"A decade of departmental research says allowing private taxis to have the run of bus lanes will have long-term negative effects on bus journey times and cycling levels in the city. The trial will have to show something amazing to shift that position. William McCausland's personal opinion after 38 days may be of mild interest to some, but thankfully it won't be the basis for deciding transport policy in a modern city."
Sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, rejected the calls for taxis to use the lanes.
A statement read: "Mr McCausland claims that taxis are 'a vital public service' which reduce traffic and are beneficial to the environment by reducing congestion.
"We all know that taxis are private hire vehicles which are not a substitute for an efficient public transport system. The purpose of bus lanes is to provide sustainable transport corridors to improve the efficiency of moving people around an urban area, while reducing congestion and air pollution.
"Belfast simply cannot support the predominance of private vehicles on our road, including taxis."
A Department of Infrastructure spokesperson said: "The Department is currently undertaking a trial which permits Class A taxis to use the bus lanes on the East and West Belfast Rapid Transit routes and the 12-hour bus lanes in the city centre which link the two routes. Presently, only Class B and Class D taxis can use bus lanes.
"Following a full public consultation exercise in 2012, that drew a mix of responses from a wide range of road users, the Department is seeking further information that will assist in the decision making process and help to ensure that the final policy balances the needs of all public transport users
"After the 12 week trial (which commenced on 20 February 2017) the Department will assess the impact of the change on all bus lane users, on bus journey times, and traffic flow composition before any permanent changes to access would be considered.
"The safety of those using bus lanes is of paramount importance and will be a key consideration in that assessment process. The Department is also inviting stakeholders to provide their views during the trial period."