Fears that cyclists will be swamped as number of taxis allowed in Belfast bus lanes may be double original estimate

Sustrans says earlier figures didn't take account of cabs registered outside city

by Simon_MacMichael   April 10, 2013  

Taxi (copyright Simon MacMichael)

Fears have been raised in Belfast that the number of taxis that may be allowed to use the city’s bus lanes is more than double the 2,000 vehicles initially anticipated. Sustrans believes that up to 4,500 cabs may be permitted to drive in bus lanes, and the Belfast Telegraph says that its own observations suggest that figure may be correct raising even greater concerns about the safety of cyclists.

As we reported in February, cyclists staged a protest outside Belfast City Hall in opposition to plans due to go before Northern Ireland Transport Minister Danny Kennedy to permit taxis to use bus lanes, which are seen as providing a degree of safety from most traffic for those on two wheels.

It is also believed that letting taxis use bus lanes would also discourage those who do not currently ride in Belfast but may be considering cycling in the city from doing so.

It now transpires that the initial figure of 2,000 additional vehicles was only based on the city’s 500 public hire taxis, which carry yellow taxi licence plates, plus a further 1,500 private hire vehicles based in the city, which carry green plates.

What that figure didn’t take account of, however, was the 2,500 white-plated cabs that are registered outside the Northern Ireland capital but are permitted to operate in the city, says Sustrans.

An ad hoc observation of traffic by the Belfast Telegraph found that around two in three of the taxis that passed St Anne’s Cathedral in the space of an hour did, in fact, carry white plates – 52 vehicles, compared to 26 with green plates and just two with yellow ones.

The Belfast Telegraph said that the proposals cast doubt on the commitment of Northern Ireland’s Department for Regional Development (DRD) to make Belfast, which hosts the start of next year’s Giro d’Italia, “to make the city centre a place where buses and bikes take priority.”

An opponent of the proposals to let taxis into bus lanes at all, the Alliance Party’s Stewart Dickson, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), told the newspaper: “I do not understand why the DRD says it supports sustainable transport, and is working on schemes such as Belfast On The Move, whilst planning to allow extra taxis to flood bus lanes."

When contacted by the newspaper, UKIP MLA David McNarry, like Mr Dickson a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Regional Development Committee, said that he would be getting in touch with the minister to ask him to review the proposals in light of the latest predictions of the number of taxis that would be using bus lanes.

"It shows the usage of the white-plate taxis is far, far greater than I or the department would have been made aware of. I think this needs to be looked at again,” he added, after the Belfast Telegraph told him the latest figures.