Northern Ireland reassures chauffeurs over rule changes
Legislators in Northern Ireland have promised to come up with a “sensible framework” to plug a loophole in new taxi rules that threatened the livelihoods of executive chauffeurs in the province.Under new rules scheduled to come into force next April, a new single-tier taxi licensing system will apply throughout Northern Ireland – which will require all taxis to be fitted with meters, roof lights and plates. The distinction between hackney carriage and private hire vehicle would be removed too, and all licensed vehicles would be able to “ply for hire” – though only wheelchair-accessible vehicles would be able to stand on ranks.
But executive chauffeur operators complained that the need to run at standard metered rates would make their business unsustainable, as they would not be able to charge a premium price for a premium service.
However, Alex Boyle, head of vehicle policy, road safety and vehicle regulation at the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment (DoE) said he had met with chauffeur operators and was working on a proposal that would allow executive chauffeurs to be exempt from the signage, plating and metering requirements.
“We’re working on a proposal that will allow vehicles that provide chauffeur services to apply for an exemption along the lines of the ‘special occasion and novelty vehicle’ exemption for wedding and funeral cars,” Boyle said.
The new exemption has not been finalised yet, but Boyle said he expected chauffeur cars would have to carry no more identification than a windscreen disc – regular taxis will have to carry a plate on the roof sign. “Chauffeurs won’t have to display a roof sign or plates, and they won’t have to fit a meter,” he said.
“The chauffeur industry makes a valuable contribution to the Northern Ireland economy, especially with tourism on the rise,” Boyle said. “We recognise that chauffeur vehicles are designed to provide a more luxurious and more expensive service. In no way do we want to disadvantage the chauffeur sector.”
A full proposal for the exemption is expected to be announced later in the year, once a consultation period has finished, Boyle added.