Shake-up of taxi licence regulations delayed until June
Plans for a single-tier taxi licensing system have receded once again after Environment Minister Mark H Durkan revealed it won't be introduced until next June.
The new system was originally supposed to start in 2013, then was deferred until September 2014, then January 2015, and now June 2015.
Addressing Stormont's environment committee, Mr Durkan insisted he would be pressing ahead with the single-tier system, abolishing the distinction between public and private hire taxis.
However, the committee voted not to give permission for him to go ahead with the regulations.
Committee chair Anna Lo said the majority of committee members, including DUP and Sinn Fein representatives, voted not to agree that the department could go ahead, although she personally opposed this motion as she was in favour of a single-tier system because it was best for customers.
"What the DUP and Sinn Fein want is to allow for exclusion zones in Belfast, where public hire taxis can have exclusion zones for themselves, but the minister said he is going ahead with a single-tier system.
"People want to see a single-tier system. The majority of large cities in the world just have taxis driving around so you can put up your hand and hail a taxi," she said.
"If we want to see ourselves as a major city for tourists we've got to upgrade our system."
She said it didn't necessarily mean that taxis would be flooding into bus lanes, as these are governed by DRD.
"I would not want to see taxis using bus lanes, but perhaps taxis could go in just for drop-off and pick-up of customers," she said.
Gerry Maxwell of the Belfast Public Hire Taxi Association said he was happy that the decision has been deferred again but disappointed that the minister was going ahead with plans for the single-tier system.
A DoE spokesperson said: "On June 19, 2014, in a written statement to the Assembly, the minister stated that, after hearing representations from all sections of the community and taxi industry, he intended to make regulations introducing a single-tier taxi licensing regime in Belfast, the same that applies in all other parts of the North.
"This move will facilitate fairer competition of taxiing in Belfast and provide consumers in Belfast with more choice, the type of choice that consumers in Enniskillen, Newry, Ballymena, Omagh and Derry already enjoy.
"The minister's position is one that is shared by the Consumer Council, Disability Action, the Inclusive Mobility and Transport Advisory Committee, Women's Aid, Victim Support, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce and Visit Belfast. As the minister indicated to the committee today, the necessary regulations will be made in advance of the Christmas recess and will include an operational date of June 29, 2015."