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TRAVELLERS in Belfast will be able to hail a taxi New York-style under new government proposals unveiled yesterday.

The proposals form part of a major shake-up of the industry announced by Northern Ireland Office Environment Minister David Cairns.

Tourists have long complained they can't hail cabs in the street in the city, while weekend revellers are forced to phone taxis and queue.

The proposal has been welcomed by the Belfast Welcome Centre that promotes tourism in the city.

A spokesman said: "We welcome anything that improves the service for consumers, be they tourists or locals.

"If visitors to Belfast are used to a service where they can hail a cab in the street then it is good that we can offer that same service here."

At present, only four per cent of city taxis can be hailed in the street - but these normally work out of the airports and train stations.

It's illegal for a taxi to pick up a passenger without a phone booking - but still revellers line streets every weekend in a bid to hail them.

Under the new legislation, new taxi drivers in Northern Ireland will be required to take a special driving test, while unlicensed taxis could be stopped and seized.

The minister confirmed that companies here would also have to apply maximum fare rates for all taxis under proposals which should be in place by March next year.

He added: "Taxi users will get a much better deal as a result of changes.

"It will be easier for them to find out what fare they should be charged and how it has been worked out.

"There will be a lot less confusion about different types of taxis and when they are allowed to pick up passengers."

Under the Government's proposals, which will go out to consultation until November 7, the PSNI and the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency will be given new powers to clamp down on the illegal taxi trade.

As well as having the power to stop and search unlicensed taxis, they will be able to inspect premises where it is suspected taxi services are operating without a proper license and impose fines up to pounds 2,500.

At present only the taxi association cabs that operate in North and West Belfast are permitted to pick up passengers along the roadside.

Stephen Long of the North and West Belfast Taxi Association said: "Our service is unique and was recognised as such with the taxi/bus licence that we were allocated.

"However I welcome the fact the regulations will now be streamlined, the current legislation is confusing for customers."

Voice of the Mirror
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 16, 2006
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