Black Friday for Belfast's rush hour drivers as parking row cabbies cause gridlock
Belfast's black taxis turned Black Friday into a nightmare for motorists as they protested in a dispute with the city's traffic wardens.
More than 200 public hire cab bies went on a 'go slow' protest at rush hour last night, causing serious delays in and out of the city.
The protest centred around the front of the City Hall where there has been a black taxi rank for more than 50 years.
Lines of the black hacks drove together, effectively blocking the road and causing gridlock at key junctions.
The Belfast Public Hire Taxi Association (BPHTA) claims that drivers are effectively being driven out of the city centre by the ticketing policies of 'red coats'.
And it says that the cabbies will continue to protest every day from 4-5pm until the Department for Regional Development provides improved access and facilities for its drivers in the city centre.
The protest was sparked yesterday morning by a £45 fine given to taximan Kieran Reilly, who claimed he moved out of the way for a van making a delivery at the side of the Marks & Spencer building.
He parked alongside the front taxi in the rank and claimed he was the only motorist fined - despite him observing several parking infringements by other drivers.
Mr Reilly said: "I was not blocking any traffic, I was not parked in the bus lane.
"The two parking attendants actually walked past someone parked illegally on a disabled parking space and a car parked on double yellow lines to fine me."
Another taxi driver said he was fined after he left his car for 20 minutes to find a public toilet.
Pat Meighan, secretary of BPHTA, said: "Every other city in the UK has proper access and facilities for its public hire taxis, why can't Belfast?"
Mr Meighan said that BPHTA had lobbied DRD to provide new areas for taxi ranks, but was told that it would have to wait until new facilities for cyclists were all in place.
However, a DRD spokeswoman said that the department was in consultations for five separate potential sites "with a view to proceeding to the formal legislative stage in the new year".
She said that Belfast City Council and the PSNI had a number of concerns regarding the taxi drivers' recommendations to amend taxi ranks in Donegall Square.
"Subsequently, the department wrote to the taxi representatives with a revised proposal to overcome their concerns," she said.
"One of the organisations representing the taxi drivers has responded in the past few days, confirming that the revised proposal would be a workable solution and DRD will now consult further with Belfast City Council and the PSNI."
The spokeswoman added: "All drivers are expected to park properly and legally, whether or not traffic attendants are present. If anyone feels that they have been issued with a parking ticket incorrectly, they are entitled to challenge it."
Last night Ukip MLA David McNarry called on the DoE and DRD ministers Mark H Durkan and Michelle McIlveen to work together to find a workable solution for the public hire taxi drivers.
"The city of Belfast needs a good public hire taxi service for tourists, shoppers and business people and for the taxi drivers to take this action they must be at their wits' end.
"But the law is the law and the red coats have to do their jobs. I don't want to see a war breaking out between them and the black taxi drivers, especially three to four weeks from Christmas".