Northern Ireland taxi reforms: Minister Mark H Durkan confirms new laws will come into force in May
The Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has confirmed new laws governing the regulations of taxis in Northern Ireland are to be introduced at the end of May.
The new reforms, the Department of Environment (DoE) has said, will make it easier for people to hail taxis during peak times and provide a better service for people with disibilities.
Firms will also have to advertised maximum fares.
Drivers will also be required to fit new roof signs, have DoE approved meters and fit receipt printers in their cars.
The changes will affect Northern Ireland's near 9,000 taxi drivers.
Belfast's newest taxi operator Uber has said part of the reforms are outdated as it says details can be recorded and accessed on smartphones without the need for meters and paper receipts.
The company - one of the world's biggest - has said it could pull out of Belfast should the new laws hinder its business.
Responding on Friday that the new laws would come into force, Kieran Harte, general manager for Uber Belfast said: “The regulation will only come into force in May and we are currently assessing the impact on Uber's business.
"Fundamentally, we do not believe that this regulation will help to address the need for a more reliable means of transport.
"The new regulation will cost drivers money by requiring outdated printers, raise prices for consumers through a lack of competition and make it harder for new technology to thrive in Belfast.”
DoE officials have admitted they never envisaged the technology advancements in the industry which Uber uses for its smartphone-based business model and that the new regulations will be reviewed.
Introducing the new laws, Mark H Durkan said: "What consumers want is a modern well regulated taxi service which they can access much easier at peak times, easier access for people with disabilities, where the fares are clearly indicated and where a maximum fare prevails.
"What I am doing is exactly that. I am modernising and improving the regulations for the taxi industry including licensing requirements, accessibility standards and installation of taximeters and imposition of maximum fares.
"Anyone trying to hail a taxi from midnight on a Friday or Saturday night within the Belfast Zone will be able to do so by waving down established private hire taxi firms rather than having to pre-book.
“In effect, these changes will mean that people in the north will get a much better taxi service. My department will now write to all taxi drivers and operators to advise them of the changes which will be introduced as part of the implementation of the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008."
The changes come into force on May 31.