Northern Ireland news

Scheme allowing private hire taxis to use bus lanes in Belfast put on hold

A scheme allowing private hire taxis to use bus lanes in Belfast has been put on hold. Picture by Mal McCann

A SCHEME allowing private hire taxis to use bus lanes in Belfast has been put on hold pending a decision by an "incoming minister for infrastructure".

The department for infrastructure said a recent court ruling on Stormont decision-making had led to the deferral.

But the move was last night described as "disappointing and frustrating".

A recent 12-month scheme allowed Class A, private hire, taxis to use bus lanes in Belfast - including the new Glider lanes. The scheme was due to come into operation prior to the commencement of the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) services next month.

But the department last night said the scheme had been put on hold after a recent court judgment "clarified the position regarding the decisions civil servants can and cannot take in the absence of ministers".

In July, the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling dismissing planning permission for the controversial Arc21 waste incinerator and determined that Stormont's civil servants did not have the power to act without ministerial approval.

A DfI spokesman said: "The department recently consulted on an experimental traffic control scheme that allowed Class A taxis (private hire) to use Belfast bus lanes for a period of 12 months.

"The department has considered all representations received.

"However, the recent Buick Judicial Review judgment clarified the position regarding the decisions civil servants can and cannot take in the absence of ministers.

"It is that judgment which has led the department to defer the decision on the introduction of this experimental scheme.

"The outcome of the recent consultation and the rationale for an experimental scheme will be put to an incoming minister? for infrastructure."

The department said taxi access in the bus lanes will remain limited to Class B (wheelchair accessible) and Class D (taxibus) taxis, as well as all buses, bicycles, motorcycles and the emergency services.

Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey said the move was "disappointing and frustrating".

"Taxi drivers across Belfast will, no doubt, be very angry at this decision, they are ordinary working-class men and women trying to provide for their families," he said.

"Overturning this decision will cause unnecessary problems for them."

Alliance's Kellie Armstrong said the decision was "inevitable in the absence of a minister".

"This delay is down to the fact we have no ministers in place to take political decisions," she said.

"If the private taxi industry are frustrated they should look to DUP and Sinn Féin as to the reason why we have no decision-making process. While this impasse continues, difficult decisions will be shelved."

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