The taxi industry is vital to our economy. However, it is regulated using archaic regulations that serve neither providers nor, most importantly, customers.
The Taxis Act was introduced in 2008 to raise standards, promote road safety, reduce illegality, improve accessibility and facilitate fairer competition. To date, only parts of the Act have been implemented and so it has not been able to deliver those benefits.
The Act will improve driver testing and training; protect consumers by requiring taximeters and receipt printers; and remove the restriction in Belfast on private hire taxis being able to stand or ply for hire, an entitlement enjoyed by all taxis outside Belfast.
Consultations by my department have repeatedly indicated a desire to end these restrictive practices. Disability Action, IMTAC, the Consumer Council, Women's Aid, Victim Support, Belfast Chamber of Trade & Commerce, the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, Pubs of Ulster and Visit Belfast have all expressed support for these changes.
There are insufficient taxis which can pick up on Belfast's streets during peak periods to meet demand and ensure public order. Too much enforcement time is spent addressing relatively minor licensing offences, reducing resources available to address illegal and dangerous taxis. The changes will enhance the reputation of the taxi industry, increasing demand for all operators. Demand should be determined by the service provided and price.
It is my department's responsibility to set standards and to ensure compliance with those standards. It has no role in limiting choice in terms of how, when and what type of taxi to use.
I am aware of the concerns of the Belfast Public Hire taxi drivers. But I must balance these with the requirements to regulate for a safe, fair and fit-for-purpose taxi industry. I have concluded it is time to implement the remaining elements of the Act.
I have therefore set out the timetable for the reforms, including changes to the taxi licensing regime in January 2015. I will continue to work with industry stakeholders to realise the benefits of the Act.
- Mark H Durkan is Environment Minister