Environment Minister Alex Attwood today announced the introduction of single tier taxi licensing in September this year, and the introduction of maximum fares, compulsory taxi meters and receipt machines in 2014.
From September 2013, all taxis will be able to stand and ply for hire and will no longer have to be pre-booked.
This change, which had previously been planned for April 2013, was put back by Minister Attwood to September 2013 as a result of the Minister having listened to concerns that the current economic position has caused difficulties for taxi providers. This delay will allow the taxi industry to familiarise itself with the new operating process and prepare for its implementation.
Single tier licensing system will also allow drivers from outside Belfast to come into the city centre and work, which should serve to increase supply of taxis in the city centre at peak times, particularly at weekends.
Minister Attwood said: “I remain fully committed to providing a safe, fair and fit for purpose taxi industry in Northern Ireland. Single tier licensing is a significant step which will help achieve this goal.
“Having the ability to obtain any taxi without pre-booking will help to provide the public with more choice. It will also give those in the taxi industry more opportunities for business in these difficult economic times.”
The Minister continued: “I am also temporarily de-regulating taxi meters and fares for Belfast Public Hire taxis to bring them into line with the rest of the taxi industry. This will establish a level and fair playing field as Belfast Public Hire taxis will be able to charge competitive rates to consumers and will not have to adhere to taxi fares set by law. I am also looking at a package of measures to enable Public Hire to develop and enhance their business opportunities, consistent with the Taxis Legislation.
“I believe this will help to create a competitive market and will bring about benefits for operators, drivers and passengers alike.”
The requirement will remain within Belfast that only wheelchair accessible vehicles will be permitted to stand at ranks.
This is the next phase of implementing the Taxi Act 2008, following the introduction of Taxi Operator Licensing in September 2012. The aim of the Act is to ensure that the Northern Ireland public has a modern, fit for purpose taxi industry responsive to its needs. The remaining provisions of the Act, including maximum fares and compulsory taxi meters and receipt machines, will be implemented in 2014.
Single tier licensing is designed to make it easier for the consumer to tell if the vehicle is a legal taxi and to give the customer greater choice as to the type of taxi they wish to use. It has been supported by representatives of consumer groups, including Disability Action, IMTAC, the Consumer Council and many taxi drivers and is the single largest reform in terms of what will be experienced by users of taxis.