Belfast Telegraph

Fona Cab owner warns of 'outcry' if taxi reform equipment requirements are scrapped

Company invests £300,000 to prepare for law change

By Jonny Bell

The Department of Environment would be faced with an "outcry" if it were to change taxi reforms after their introduction in May, the owner of Fona Cab has said.

On May 31 the Department of Environment is introducing wide-ranging reforms, it says, to make it easier to hail a taxi.

Customers will be able to hail any taxi during peak times and firms will have to advertise maximum fares.

Drivers will also be required to fit new roof signs, have DoE approved meters and fit receipt printers in their cars.

The changes will affect Northern Ireland's near 9,000 taxi drivers.

DoE officials said they were taken by surprise by the advancements in the taxi industry and how firms such as Fona Cab, Value Cabs and Uber use apps and said the new reforms will be reviewed almost as soon as they come into being.

That review will include the need for drivers to have meters and printers, the DoE has said, along with a review of the individual component parts including taxi operator, driver and vehicle Licensing alongside a review of the powers provided to the department.

Given the forthcoming Assembly election, the review will fall to the minister of the new Department for Infrastructure in the next Assembly mandate.

Fona Cab owner William McCausland said his firm was investing around £300,000 in its fleet given the new equipment requirments.

He said there would be an "outcry" if those requirements were to change.

"Aand I don't see that they would do," he said.

"Taxi reform has been going on for so long now - since the 1980s - and we are just at the point now where we want to know what the reforms are and be left to do our job."

We asked Value Cab for a comment and they referred us to William McCausland.

Belfast's newest taxi operator Uber described part of the reforms as "outdated" as it says details can be recorded and accessed on smartphones without the need for meters and paper receipts.

It also said the new regulations would not lead to more reliable means of transport.

First launched in 2009, Uber has rapidly expanded across the world and is now available in over 300 cities across 67 countries and has become a multi-billion dollar business.

It launched in Belfast in December.

However, after hinting it may pull out of the city over the new reforms, Uber says it is committed to Northern Ireland as demand has exceeded initial projections.

It also addressed information published by the Assembly over the number of drivers it has operating under an Uber sign, which it said was "inaccurate".

In January a question from Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane revealed there were 26 drivers affiliated to Uber's operator's licence.

The Department of Environment said there are currently 25 drivers as of last week, which compares to Fona Cab's 567 and Value Cab's 674.

Kieran Harte, general manager for Uber in Belfast said: "The numbers released by The Assembly only reflect the partner-drivers that were affiliated to Uber's Operator license, they do not accurately reflect the number of who have signed up with their own operator's license.

"Around 100 professional drivers have signed up to drive on the Uber App since we launched."

He added: "The demand for Uber in Belfast has far exceeded our initial projections and we are delighted with the response we have received from local passengers.

"Uber is committed to Belfast and is currently looking at ways to optimise the app when the new reforms come into force.”

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