Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 26 May 2016

New Northern Ireland taxi laws ‘to be reviewed’ as officials admit technology advancements took them by surprise

By Jonny Bell

Published 26/01/2016

The new laws should come into force at the end of May.
The new laws should come into force at the end of May.

Changes to Northern Ireland’s taxi laws are set to be reviewed soon after their introduction after officials admitted they were taken by surprise by technological advancements in the industry.

Reforms to how taxis are regulated and operated have been in the pipeline since 2008.

Among the changes will be the introduction of taxi meters and printers in all vehicles, which would be inspected, tested and sealed by Department of the Environment (DoE) officials.

Northern Ireland’s newest taxi operator, Uber - which has swept the globe with its smartphone-based service - has said it could pull out of the local market should the changes hinder its business.

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The multi-billion dollar company which operates in 300 cities, argues that the need for meters and receipt printers is unnecessary as all the details can be processed through smart phones.

Department of Environment officials admitted during a hearing of the Environment Committee that the way Uber operates was not envisaged when the reforms were first drafted.

Alex Boyle, of the DoE’s road safety and vehicle registrations division said: “Technology and the introduction of apps and companies coming in to work on that basis was never envisaged in the legislation.

“And it would be remiss of department not to reflect that and to look at it as an issue and we are duty bound to review the legislation.”

The official said that review would take place “a matter of months” after the introduction May 31 introduction of the laws.

He also said inspecting, testing and sealing of meters for the 8,500 drivers registered in Northern Ireland would be a “big task” and that many had already bought or ordered the necessary equipment in anticipation of the reforms.

He explained that the process would take place on a “rolling basis” and when drivers’ licences are up for renewal.

The committee passed the reforms, however, objections can still be made in the Assembly up until February 2.

Should that period pass without objection the rules will come into force on May 31.

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