Taxi drivers enraged at pick-up ban from outside Belfast's Central Station
Taxi drivers claim they could be forced out of business after they were banned from picking up passengers at the front of Belfast's busiest train station.
In a move that has been branded a shambles, public hire cabs can no longer collect people at the entrance to Central Station.
It follows a clampdown on drivers using the bus lane that passes the front of the busy station. A taxi must encroach the lane to collect a fare - landing its driver with a £90 fine.
The move has angered public hire companies and led to warnings that it could force drivers out of business.
Gerry Maxwell from the Belfast Public Hire Taxi Association said it was a shambles.
"There is nowhere else for our drivers to go - basically, Central Station is now off limits for public hire taxis," he said.
Central Station is Belfast's main railway station. It is the starting point for the cross-border Enterprise rail service connecting Belfast and Dublin and carries thousands of passengers a day.
It is also the arrival point for many visitors to the city.
Now, however, passengers will not be able to access public hire taxis at the front door. Instead, they have to walk to a less obvious pick-up point at Mays Meadows, which is accessed through a side entrance.
Mr Maxwell said the issue was confusing passengers. "The black taxis always parked there because that's where people come to - they don't walk downstairs," he said. "People are arriving from Dublin, or maybe they are coming from abroad via Dublin. They come to the front door, but then they can't hail a public hire taxi."
Value Cabs, which is Translink's "recommended partner", has a free telephone ordering system on the way out of the station.
Mr Maxwell said public hire taxis were at a serious disadvantage. He warned some drivers could go out of business.
"This is the death-knell for the public hire taxis at Central Station," he said.
"It's the only place in the UK where public hire taxis don't have a rank at the bus or train station.
"There is a lot of anger among drivers. For many drivers that is their main source of income."
The issue has been taken up by DUP MLA Lord Morrow, who has submitted a series of questions to Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy.
"It is vitally important that we provide the best transport service," Lord Morrow said.
"In relation to Central Station, we want to make sure that it's as convenient for commuters as possible. The fact that they can't now come out at the front and get a public hire taxi is a step in the wrong direction."
Mr Kennedy said: "The bus lane legislation for East Bridge Street does not permit taxis to enter this bus lane. Therefore, it would be an offence if a taxi entered the bus lane to pick up a passenger."