Published Thursday, 21 February 2013
Protest outside City Hall in Belfast against bus lanes being open to all taxis (© Presseye)
Currently, only black cabs can use the Belfast system, but the Department for Regional Development is currently consulting on whether former private taxis can join them.
The move has been prompted by a forthcoming change to taxi licensing implemented by the DOE.
This will see the end of the current two tier system of public and private hire taxis to be replaced by a single tier arrangement.
Under the new licensing regime, all taxis will be allowed to pick up fares on the street.
A large rally gathered at in the city centre on Thursday to urge the Department for Regional development not to allow the taxis to use the lanes.
The cycling community took a stand against the move as they feel it will worsen safety for those who choose to use bikes on the roads.
Attending the rally was Tom McClelland, a volunteer with the national cycling charity CTC (Cyclists' Touring Club). He said the move could put off cyclists.
"Bus lanes are perceived to be a safe place for commuting cycling," he said.
"If we get more and more private hire taxis in bus lanes there's a real risk and real perception of increased danger which will put off more cyclists.
"Taxis aren't an economic way to travel. Taxis are seen to be expensive, they are polluting, they are certainly not socially inclusive."
He added: "Our view is: cycle to work. It's an awful lot cheaper, it's good for your health, its good for the environment and its socially inclusive."
PSNI figures show that while road casualties are down, the number of cyclists hurt or seriously injured has continued to rise over the last ten years.
Ghost bikes have appeared in the city after a number of fatal accidents, including on the Ormeau Road and Newtownards Road.
The introduction of additional bus lanes from last summer, as part of DRD's 'Belfast on the Move' scheme, was met by criticism due to delays and congestion when it was first implemented.
But William McCausland from taxi firm Fonacab said it is essential for his business that they are permitted to use the bus lanes.
"The lanes are massively underused at the moment and the inclusion of the private hire vehicles, which will be public hire very soon under the legislation changes," he said.
"The taxis aren't nearly as large as the buses, so their ability to manoeuvre around the cyclists is going to be much simpler.
"We are talking about professional drivers here, who are experienced drivers, are well aware of safety aspects and I don't see any problem whatsoever with regard to cyclists' safety," he continued.
"It would be a massive help to us. With all the work going on around City Hall and the reduction in the private car lanes, it makes it very difficult for our cabs to get to pick up passengers."
Launching the consultation last June, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said he was aware of "potential impact that increased traffic volumes may have on the performance of existing bus lanes".
"However, taxis assist the public and need to be able operate by being able to pick up passengers on their routes," he added.
A DRD Roads Service spokeswoman said the consultation has concluded and the minister will announce his decision in due course.
© UTV News