The Minister for Infrastructure faced fresh calls to drop any future experimental bus lane access schemes, which would have included all of Belfast’s taxis and private hire vehicles.
Earlier this year, before the effects of COVID-19, the Green Party urged Belfast Council to continue a ban placed on private hire vehicles in bus lanes.
Currently wheelchair accessible taxis, taxi buses and traditional black cabs are allowed to use the bus lanes in Belfast.
The council supported the idea for all taxis, including private hire, to use the bus lanes. However, the Department for Infrastructure refused the appeals while the Stormont executive was suspended, claiming any changes required ministerial approval.
On Tuesday, Rachel Woods, a Green Party MLA for North Down, asked the Minister for Infrastructure to drop any future experimental traffic control schemes, saying: “Given the focus on walking and cycling, will the Minister commit to not progressing any further the experimental traffic control scheme permitting taxis in bus lanes, instead of focusing on other measures to enhance the provision of public transport, cycle infrastructure and pedestrian priority?”
Nichola Mallon, Minister for Infrastructure and MLA for North Belfast, responded saying: “We need to go up in a helicopter to take a holistic and comprehensive view of our public transport network.
“We need to look at the hierarchy and put walkers at the top and then have cyclists, riders and drivers. However, we must also recognise that, if we have a really good public transport system, it requires our buses, our trains and our taxi drivers, as I recognise that they too are an important part of it.
“The challenge, I suppose, is how we use the road space that we have to recognise that it is an integrated transport system, while being mindful of environmental improvements and benefits.
“It is an issue that I am aware of. I am very much focused on COVID-19 at present, but I know that it is an issue. I had started to engage on it just before the crisis hit, and it is certainly an issue that I will engage on further.”