Cabbies cheer plan to let them use Belfast bus lanes
Taxi drivers have defended a controversial move to let them drive in Belfast's bus lanes.
The experimental scheme, due to run for a year, will let class A - or private hire - taxis drive in most lanes set aside for buses, including the new Belfast Rapid Transit system.
The Department for Infrastructure says the extensive trial, which launches in September, is needed because a 12-week test last year proved inconclusive. Reaction to the announcement was mixed, with union bosses, public representatives and cyclists claiming the move will be damaging.
Unite's Davy Thompson said: "This will have a very significant and adverse impact.
"It will mean increased congestion and pollution in a city with already one of the worst congestion problems in the UK and where hundreds every year suffer chronic illnesses resulting from car fumes.
"This is completely unacceptable and we question whether it will deliver anything in terms of avoiding delays to the commencement of the (rapid transit) scheme."
Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said: "Taxis are private - not public - transport, and save for the wheelchair accessible ones, should not be in bus lanes.
"I cannot fathom why any transport planner, in a city like Belfast, would prioritise private transport in this way.
"How will we ease congestion with this sop? Madness."
But Fonacab's William McCausland said the recent consultation showed "overwhelming support" for the move, with 10,000 submissions in favour and just over 100 against.
"This is good news for ordinary taxi drivers and their customers who would have been very badly affected by being excluded from the bus lane for 12 hours each day," he said.
"Fares will cost less. It's a common sense decision and reflects the situation in cities right across Britain and Ireland where taxis are allowed in bus lanes and this works."
Karl Bennett, managing director at Eastside Taxis, said: "The reality is transport is a personal choice and taxis simply work better for some people - some people with mobility issues, elderly people.
"People travelling in taxis won't be sitting waiting in traffic as long and their fares will be lower; It's not just some perk for drivers."
Mr Bennett also insisted that it was up to everyone who uses the bus lanes to work together and respect their place on the roads.
"We all want to make things move around the city more efficiently," he added.
"The lanes are not constantly filled with buses, so it makes sense to use them.
"If taxi drivers are not working, then their signs aren't up.
"If they're in the lanes, then they'll be working, providing a service for the city."