Belfast gets new taxi 'flag down' regulations as Uber offers free rides
The opening shots have been fired in the latest battle in Belfast's taxi warfare.
New regulations mean that this weekend there will be more taxis the public can flag down on Belfast streets than ever before.
A change to the law means that previously private hire only cabs will be able to pick people up straight off the street, as opposed to customers needing to have booked a cab first.
Previously private hire taxis can now operate as public hire from midnight on Friday and Saturday until 6am each following morning.
Belfast's newest taxi operator, the global giant Uber, does not have a licence to operate as public hire at anytime. Therefore customers still need to book.
Instead the company is offering free rides to people over the weekend, which also marks the sixth month anniversary since its launch.
Since launch the company now boasts of over 200 drivers on its books and that one in 10 Belfast people use its app.
From 6am today until 4am Monday, Uber users will get £10 off their ride, meaning most short distance journeys could be free.
It's the latest bid for custom in the increasingly tense battle ground that is the city's taxi industry.
Taxis have been seen around the town advertising that they "don't do surging" in response to Uber's controversial policy of increasing the price as demand rises.
Social networks are also a buzz with rival drivers keen to highlight each others' failings.
Previously Fona Cab owner William McCausland has said the arrival of Uber was a "big threat" however, was confident his 600-strong fleet could match the competition.
He told the Belfast Telegraph his firm had invested some £300,000 in preparation for the new taxi laws which also see cars being fitted with meters and printers as well as advertising fixed prices.
He was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Some in the industry believe the new regulations will lead to confusion among the public.
Belfast Public Hire Taxis spokesman Gerry Maxwell said: "It it ain't broke don't fix it.
"Chaos and havoc are maybe too strong words to use, but you will have everyone vying for a fare.
"When they wrote the new laws, it was fit for purpose then, but not now in 2016. It was rushed
"I've been taxing for 32 years, both as private and public hire. I'm a believer that everyone should stick to their own rules.
"That the public hire can pick people off the street and the private hire are supplied work from their depot - that's what their drivers pay for.
"Drivers are also out of pocket around £1,500 to pay for the equipment, which will increase fares at a time we are trying to reduce ours.
"People think our fares are more expensive than private hire - but they are wrong, we charge exactly the same as a private hire taxi.
"There's no winners in this, the drivers, the firms and the punters all lose out."
Belfast Telegraph Digital