Taxis to be allowed in Belfast bus lanes
The vast majority of taxis are to be allowed into bus lanes in Belfast for a year - including the lanes earmarked for the new Rapid Transit System.
Class A taxis, also called private hire taxis, will be able to use bus lanes where certain taxis are being permitted as part of an "experimental scheme."
The Department for Infrastructure says the extensive trial is needed.
It said a 12-week experiment allowing taxis into bus lanes last year proved inconclusive.
"Taking account of evidence that at least a year is needed to have full confidence in the evidence produced, the department has initiated work to undertake a more extensive trial lasting 12 months which will extend to all bus lanes where certain taxis are currently permitted", a spokesman said.
The department plans to introduce the year long scheme before the Belfast Rapid Transit System launches in September.
"In making a decision to undertake a further trial the department has considered the level of demand for access which was evident from the responses to the trial and the recent consultation on 12-hour bus lanes on the Belfast Rapid Transit routes," a spokesman added.
The decision has been welcomed by private taxi operators including Karl Bennett, the managing director of Eastside Taxis in east Belfast.
"When arguing for this, we felt it was beneficial, not just to ourselves as depot owners and indeed drivers, but we felt for those users, I mean we are service providers, we are providing a service for people on a daily basis, whether it be people going to hospital, people who are disabled who need access," he said.
"But we also believe there was a benefit in the traffic congestion and I think the evidence has played right and I think the Department for Infrastructure have made the right decision based on the evidence."
Promoters of public transport have warned that allowing taxis into bus lanes could impact on the success of the New Rapid Transit System.
Gordon Clarke is the Director of Sustrans NI.
"We've got to share the space and I think we've got to allocate more space for cycling, that's the cycle network", he said.
Public transport is the answer to our congestion because public transport is the most efficient way of moving people in and out of cities and the future of Belfast with the plans to bring in 60,000 more people living, 45,000 more jobs, you can only achieve that with a really good public transport system.
"So I don't want to see anything that compromises public transport and I kind of feel that allowing taxis into bus lanes, that's a big risk and it's one that's not worth taking."
The Department has said it is aware of the opposition to allowing Class A taxis to use bus lanes and will continue to work to achieve the best outcome for all.
A spokesperson for Translink said: "Bus routes are essential for the state of the art, high frequency Belfast Rapid Transit "Glider" system, which will be introduced in September.
"We await the outcome of the impact of this trial on public transport."
A consultation on the experimental scheme is due to take place later this spring.