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Minister unveils timetable for major overhaul of taxi legislation

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan today (Thursday) outlined the timescales for his plans that he says will improve and modernise the taxi industry.

The Department of Environment says his actions will raise standards, improve compliance, promote road safety, reduce illegality, improve accessibility and facilitate fairer competition.

His actions, summarised in a written statement to the Assembly and presented to the Environment Committee, can be summarised as follows:

  • A specific taxi driver test for new taxi drivers only – October 2014
  • People being able to hail all taxis in the street, black or otherwise – January 2015
  • Powers of Seizure against illegal taxis – January 2015
  • A new specification for Wheelchair Accessible Taxis which will ensure that users with disabilities will be better served by the taxi industry – May 2015
  • Periodic training for all taxi drivers – September 2015
  • All taxis to have taximeters and printers and adhere to maximum fare regulations. These measures will help protect both the consumer from overcharging – September 2015

Commenting on his timetable of actions Mark H Durkan said: “These changes will greatly benefit the public and the many visitors to our shores. Taxis will be easier to get, taxis will be safer to use, taxis will be better at looking after the requirements of our disabled citizens.

“One of the proposed changes will involve the removal of the restriction on private hire taxis to ply for hire in Belfast, an entitlement that all taxis outside Belfast enjoy. For residents and visitors to the city, this will make hiring a taxi much less restrictive and confusing.

“I am concerned that there are insufficient taxis which can pick up on the street in Belfast during peak periods to meet demand and ensure public order. Too much valuable enforcement time is spent addressing relatively minor licensing offences, which reduces the resources available to address illegal and dangerous taxis. This is simply not acceptable.

“I believe the proposed changes will enhance the reputation of the taxi industry, thereby increasing demand for all operators. The demand for the services of Belfast Public Hire taxis should be determined by the service they provide and the price at which it is provided. I am convinced that any sector of the industry that provides high quality services at competitive prices will continue to thrive.

“My Department has no role in limiting the choice consumers have in terms of how and when to secure a taxi and which type of taxi they wish to use. Why should I stand in the way of a member of the public if they want to choose a safe, fully compliant, licensed taxi, driver and operator in any part of the North?

“So while I am aware of the concerns of the Belfast Public Hire taxi drivers, I must balance these with the requirements, clearly set out by consumer and disability groups, to improve regulation for a safe, fair and fit for purpose taxi industry. I have concluded that it is time that the remaining elements of the Act, which came onto the statute books back in 2008, are actually implemented.”

Minister Durkan concluded: “Understandably, the industry has sought clarity about my intentions. Today, in a written statement to the Assembly, I set out my timetable for the reforms and look forward to working with the sector to ensure that the transition into the new arrangements is as seamless as possible.”

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