Northern Ireland

Why not all taxi drivers are hailing new planned changes

public hire taxis outside belfast city hall
Image caption At present only public hire taxis are allowed to pick up passengers outside Belfast City Hall

At present taxis in NI operate under different rules determined by the colour of their plates.

The DoE wants to bring them all into line and operate under one new licence which will bring major changes, including how to call-a-cab.

As part of the changes customers would for the first time be able to hail any taxi from the side of the road - ending the need to pre-book.

William McCausland from Fona Cab supports the changes.

"A cab is there and is licensed and insured," he said.

'Common sense'

"If a customer wants to get the cab, it's hard to argue that he must phone a depot and the depot has to contact the driver and then go and get him.

"If there's a cab there and it's licensed and the customer wants that cab, let us not argue with common sense."

Taxis based at the city hall in Belfast are the only ones currently allowed to pick up off the street.

They strongly oppose the changes saying they will be forced to ply their trade elsewhere.

Sean Beckett from the the Public Hire Coalition said his members strongly oppose the changes.

"If we have an influx of taxis within Belfast city centre because of what they are planning to do, well it is going for force drivers to look at other aspects of earning a living to keep their family, so they will have to look at all revenues to be able to cater for their family's needs."

This could create more competition for the west Belfast black taxis.

They evolved out of the Troubles - when bus services were often disrupted.

They operate a shared service on designated roads.

Other taxis will be able to compete for their customers, including groups of passengers, if they are hailed from the footpath.

Jim Neeson, a former manager with the West Belfast Taxi group, said it would "impact badly" on the the west Belfast taxis.

'Harmful'

"Private saloon cars, and black taxis other than the West Belfast taxis will be free to operate up and down that road.

Image caption Black taxis have been a familiar sight on the Falls Road for many years

"I think that will be harmful to the black taxis and I think it will spell the ultimate end of that taxi service as we know it unless it modernises and changes."

It is intended that the west Belfast taxis will retain their special licence that lets them operate like a local bus service.

But they will also be able to apply for a new licence that will allow them to operate like a conventional taxi in any area.

Brian Barr from the West Belfast Taxi Association said it is something they will consider if they start losing trade.

"We might be forced to look alternatively at the private end ourselves, such as buying the other licence that allows our vehicles to rank at the city hall, to rank at hotels, obviously diversify into other work because we are not going to allow this to turn into a war as such."

The increased competition could lead to a better deal for passengers but its an unsettling time for some operators.

The consultation period on the proposed changes ends next week.