Sinn Fein MP lashes ‘U-turn’ by department over taxis using Belfast bus lanes

Private hire taxis will not be allowed in Belfast bus lanes
Private hire taxis will not be allowed in Belfast bus lanes

Sinn Fein has slammed a decision by the Department of Infrastructure to stop private hire taxis from using bus lanes in Belfast.

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said the decision was an “act of bad faith and wrong”.

In March, the News Letter revealed that just over a year previously, then Sinn Fein infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard asked civil servants not to attend a meeting he was having with Mr Maskey and taxi company owners.

The result was there was no departmental record of what was discussed. But 15 days later, Mr Hazzard announced a significant policy change; that private hire taxis – the vast bulk of taxis in Belfast – would be allowed to use the bus lanes on the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) routes on a trial basis.

The decision was welcomed by many in the taxi industry but fiercely opposed by cyclists and trade unionists who represent public transport workers.

However, the Department of Infrastructure announced that after consulting widely on the decision, and in light of a recent court ruling limiting decisions by civil servants in the absence of ministers, it had decided not to allow the taxis to use the lanes until the matter can be considered by an incoming minister.

But Mr Maskey challenged the decision. “In overturning this decision at the last minute, the department have not delivered on commitments given,” he said. “This approach is both disappointing and frustrating.

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

But Alliance infrastructure spokeswoman Kellie Armstrong MLA said the decision was inevitable.

“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 Fein as to the reason why we have no decision-making process.

“While this impasse continues, difficult decisions will be shelved.”