Belfast bus lane taxi trial ends (but attack on sustainable transport limps on)

The strange saga of the push to get thousands of private hire taxis into Belfast bus lanes continues as the Department for Infrastructure announces the end of their trial.

As first reported by Bikefast in February, the trial permitting Class A taxis to use the bus lanes on the East and West Belfast Rapid Transit routes and the 12 hour bus lanes in the city centre will definitely end at midnight on Sunday 14th May 2017.

The return to normal running of bus lanes this May is down to the efforts of Bikefast, Sustrans and former Minister Chris Hazzard – the trial was originally planned to last for six months, only shortened to 12 weeks after our last minute intervention with the Minister and officials in early February.

From 00:01am on Monday 15 May 2017, access to bus lanes will return to pre-trial arrangements with only Class B Wheelchair Accessible / Belfast Public Hire and Class D / Taxi Bus services permitted to use the bus lanes.

Both Class B and Class D taxis are already permitted to use all appropriately signed bus lanes. Class B taxis are wheelchair accessible taxis and are mostly former Belfast Public Hire taxis but can include wheelchair accessible taxis which were formerly licensed as private hire. Class D taxis are known locally as Taxi Bus services.

The Department for Infrastructure has been gathering information on the impact of taxis using bus lanes. It will assess all the information gathered, including any views received, and present it to the next Minister in order for a decision to be made on long term access for taxis in bus lanes.

The Department is also currently seeking views on bus lane usage via an on-line survey available on the nidirect Citizen Space portal.

Comment

The latest battle is over but the war on priority for sustainable transport in Belfast is far from finished – and the odds remain astonishingly stacked against bus passengers and bicycle users.

Private taxi lobbyist have been busy peddling their own brand of facts about the magic properties of this data-gathering trial – led by the rallying cry of “success” despite no benchmarking criteria existing in the public domain, as well as the eye-popping claim that congestion in Belfast has been reduced.

Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee now finds itself in the awkward position of deciding whether to stick its neck out for a trial which is now definitely ending. The unedifying sight this week of a councillor waving promotional material from the private taxi lobby during a Council motion to support extending the trial was one the more instructive episodes in this saga.

Bikefast has requested a hearing at the next committee meeting after the no-discussion motion was adopted – we are still waiting for a response.

The Department continues to drive the policy though, partially to fit in with changing taxi regulations. The latest strange move is an open public survey – perhaps to rebalance against the 86% of respondents to the 2012 public consultation who didn’t want thousands of taxis in bus lanes?

Also, kudos on that end date..

They risk starting another useless popularity contest with their online attitudinal survey – inevitably provoking the kind of get-out-the-vote response which has no place at the centre of transport policy formation.

If you were wondering how those funny little postcards were doing, look away now..

Bikefast continues to rely on evidence – mostly provided by the Department itself but frustratingly ignored time and time again – for its arguments. We’ll be publishing our assessment of the whole taxis in bus lanes episode early next week – including reasonable steps forward to keep all of Belfast moving, not to destroy sustainable transport infrastructure in order to increase the profits of private businesses.

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