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Taxis bluffed council, claims activist as bus lane access extended

By Brett Campbell

A self-proclaimed eco-warrior rubbished claims that taxis acted as a "fourth emergency service" as he criticised a council decision to allow private taxi drivers to keep using bus lanes.

John Wright, from Green Action Belfast, described the claims as "a symptom of a post-truth culture".

Private taxi drivers have been using bus lanes that form part of the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) system as part of a 12-week trial.

But on Wednesday night, following a successful lobbying effort by the taxi industry, a council committee at City Hall passed a motion in support of extending access to bus lanes for a further six months.

FonaCab chief executive and Belfast Taxi Group member William McCausland welcomed the decision, but also insisted he would not be satisfied until all taxis were allowed in all bus lanes.

"Taxis are a vitally important part of public transport for a lot of people," Mr McCausland added. "At the end of the day, they are like the fourth emergency service."

The FonaCab boss cited examples, such as elderly people and young children needing to get to the hospital quickly, to make his case.

But Mr Wright dismissed the arguments as "bluff" and said he was alarmed they seemed to have worked.

"He claims it benefits everyone, but it clearly benefits business interests," he added.

The environmentalist described it as "mischievous and absurd that private taxis describe themselves as public transport".

He also branded councillors "lobby fodder" who "keep making very bad decisions".

"I was sad a decision was taken in haste that would be regretted later when a balanced view could be taken," Mr Wright said.

Mr McCausland denied that he was motivated purely by commercial interests and rejected claims that allowing access to bus lanes would sabotage the £90m BRT scheme, which is due to open by September 2018.

But Mr Wright remained unconvinced and said he was mystified the decision had been made based on "emotive language and wishful thinking" of the taxi industry before the trial period had concluded.

"I would insist on an absolute minimum of research-led and evidence-based decisions," he added. "What was sad about Wednesday night was that Translink were not represented.

"The committee does not seem to be interested in a balanced view and is being bluffed by private industry."

The activist was given three minutes to address the council's City Growth and Regeneration Committee before it voted on of extending taxi access to bus lanes. Only Alliance councillor Emmet McDonagh-Brown went against the motion.

The committee will now formally write to the Department for Infrastructure to make their recommendation official.

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