Poll: Should taxis be allowed to drive in Belfast's bus lanes?
Year long pilot planned by government department
Belfast's private hire taxis will be allowed to drive in bus lanes for at least a year.
The taxis are being permitted to use the lanes as part of a new pilot scheme from the Department of Infrastructure.
The Department held a 12-week trial last year that allowed Class A taxis - also known as private hire taxis - to use the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) bus lanes in east and west Belfast and the 12-hour city centre bus lanes.
In a report into the trial the Department said the "data coming from a 12-week trial" would not generally "be considered long enough to provide robust data for a study of this nature".
It said a pilot scheme of at least a year would be needed to test the proposal fully.
The change is expected to come into effect later this year.
Responding to the move Unite Regional Officer Davy Thompson said only buses should be allowed in the new BRT lanes.
“This is a shocking revelation. More than £100 million has been spent on the BRT project and now because of an organised lobby of private taxi operators the integrity of this investment is to be cast aside," he said.
"It is imperative for the success of this project, and to deliver the step-change we need to public transport provision in our city, that only buses be allowed to access the dedicated BRT bus lanes.
“The BRT buses are much longer than the standard city bus so the impact of taxis blocking lanes will be dramatic – resulting in extended delays as these longer vehicles are unable to change lanes. What’s more, the project centres on an attempt to replicate some of the advantages – at a lower cost – of a tram operating on dedicated lanes and having significantly shorter journey times. This move will completely undermine that objective."
Mr Thompson said the move would have an impact on transport across the city.
“But what is most inexcusable is that in an apparently craven attempt to ‘buy-off’ the objections of a well-connected, private sector lobby, unelected Department of Infrastructure officials have offered to open all bus lanes to Class A taxis across the city. This will have a very significant and adverse impact on the travelling public," he said.
"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 scheme. As a union we will be engaging with our membership to determine the most appropriate response to this attack on bus services in our capital city.”
The Department said it is aware of the opposition to allowing Class A taxis to use bus lanes and will continue to work to achieve the best outcome for all.
Belfast Telegraph Digital