Trade union says decision to allow Belfast's private hire taxis to use bus lanes 'will compromise public transport'
A TRADE union has claimed a move to allow Belfast's private hire taxis to use bus lanes will compromise public transport.
The Department of Infrastructure announced that Class A taxis, also called private hire taxis, will be permitted to use the Belfast Rapid Transit bus lanes in east and west Belfast and the 12-hour city centre lanes for the next year.
The department said it was part of an "experimental scheme".
It comes after a 12-week pilot allowing taxis into bus lanes last year proved inconclusive. The department plans to introduce the year-long scheme, which it said will test the proposal fully, before the system launches in September.
Previously, only Belfast Hire Taxis and taxi bus services were permitted access.
While private taxi operators welcomed the move, promoters of public transport warned it could impact on the success of the new Rapid Transit System.
Davy Thompson from Unite, which represents some bus drivers, said the move will have a "very significant and adverse impact on the travelling public".
"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," he said.
"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."
Gordon Clarke from Sustrans NI also said: "I don't want to see anything that compromises public transport and I kind of feel that allowing taxis into bus lanes, that's a big risk and it's one that's not worth taking."