Belfast Telegraph

Anger after Northern Ireland taxi shake-up hit by another delay

By Adrian Rutherford

Anger has erupted after it emerged that long-awaited proposals to revamp Belfast's taxi network have been hit by yet another delay.

A single-tier licensing system - which would make hailing a cab on the street easier and safer - was first mooted in 2008.

However, six years on it has still not been acted on.

The delay has been held up as another example of the stalemate at the heart of government in Northern Ireland.

Ukip MLA David McNarry said: "It is indicative of the problems we are seeing at Stormont.

"If the politicians cannot agree on a small issue like taxi licences then how can they convince anyone they can deal with major issues?

"It's another let-down by a stop-gap government which cannot make decisions."

The Taxi Act was aimed at revamping our outdated legislation on taxis, some of which goes back to the 1950s, and was passed in April 2008.

A key aspect is the creation of a single tier licensing system.

It would mean abolishing the distinction between public and private hire taxis.

Private taxis will no longer have to be pre-booked. Instead, they will be able to pick up passengers from the streets - just like public taxis do.

The introduction of a single-tier licensing system would also allow drivers from outside Belfast to come into the city centre and work, meaning more taxis available at peak times.

The move is likely to force prices down because of the added competition.

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, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan insisted he would be pressing ahead with the single-tier system.

However, the DUP and Sinn Fein are opposed to the plans and could block them with a rarely-used procedure called a prayer of annulment.

DUP MLA Peter Weir, who is a member of the Stormont environment committee, agreed the current system was not suitable.

"While a single tier may be the solution elsewhere, we are concerned that its application in Belfast city centre would damage real competition and be to the ultimate detriment of both customers and the industry as a whole," he said,

"However, for any system to work there must be proper enforcement of the law.

"I have grave concerns that the department does not seem to be enforcing the current rules, never mind any new regulations. If rules are not enforced then there is little point in having them."

Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Boylan, who also sits on the committee, said: "The single tier model will adversely affect the public hire sector in favour of the private hire sector. This will be particularly marked in the greater Belfast area.

"The minister recognises this problem, is well aware of it and yet he has to date failed to address this."

Gerry Maxwell from the Belfast Public Hire Taxi Association said he was happy the decision had been deferred, but disappointed that the minister was going ahead with plans for a single-tier system.

However, leading taxi operator Value Cabs said it supported the introduction of a single-tier system.

Factfile

Five other things we can't agree on:

  • Welfare reform
  • Future of Maze Prison site
  • Dealing with the past
  • Introduction of a National Crime Agency
  • An Irish Language Act

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