DRD determined to halt Belfast cycling progress?

An announcement is due soon from Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy on allowing taxis full access to bus lanes in Northern Ireland. With Department for Regional Development (DRD) officials recommending go ahead over clear, vocal and overwhelming objections, it’s time to take quick a step back and ask how we got to this point, and why DRD’s priorities are so muddled? Here are five key issues:

Taxi in cycle lane
The harmonious taxi/cycling relationship

.

Apologies to the rest of NI for another Belfast-centric post, but the vast majority of bus lanes are situated in the greater Belfast area, and one fifth of taxis currently operate here, which could rise under the new licensing regime.

How much will this damage cycling uptake?

Belfast has an ‘aspiration’ to raise the level of cycling in the city to 10% modal share by 2020. Not an official target mind you, which might bind a government department to actually delivering it. This why we fail – we still have one of the lowest modal shares in the whole of Europe.

In the decade to 2011 there has been 60% rise in the number of Belfast commuter cyclists – that’s a 2.1% modal share and almost 2,300 regular cycling commuters. Some areas of south Belfast are already upwards of 5% modal share. We need to add over 8,000 more cyclists to Belfast rush hour to get to 10% share.

This kind of massive surge hasn’t happened to date, so why would busier, more intimidating bus lanes make it more likely to happen?

And what do we lose by denying taxis the use of bus lanes? 24% less people travel to work by taxi than in 2001, down to just over 3,000 people, or a 2.9% share. If these two trends continue, cycle commuters will reach parity with taxi commuters by 2015, and by the next census, the current levels will be reversed in cycling’s favour. That would be just 3,000 cyclists by the way – if we want a total of 10,000 cyclists on our rush hour bus lanes by 2020, why threaten that aspiration for the sake of dwindling numbers of taxi users? Madness.

Why are people in Belfast dissuaded from road cycling? In a recent survey of Belfast residents, 60% of people felt roads were too dangerous for cyclingSo why is DRD salting the earth for the sake of a declining taxi commuting sector?

Taxi in cycle box
Ahh, you get the idea of these pictures… (taxi+bike=no)

.

Why has DRD not listened to objections?

86% of the rubber stamp exercise consultation responses were negative, yet how did DRD choose to handle this? With a real slap in the face to those who responded with the ‘wrong’ view – lumping everyone together with one phrase, “mostly from cyclists“, and dismissing all fears as unfounded.

I’m guessing there’s a warped logic at work – if you can distill 60 objections in to one incorrect opinion, and weigh that against fully 7 (seven) responses welcoming the proposed changes, then we have a majority in favour! That’s how government works! The logic doesn’t work both ways though – just ignore the fact that the 7 (seven) positive responses were mainly from private taxi hire firms. Shhh!

Given the overwhelming negative view on the issue, how will DRD address cyclists’ safety concerns? See if you can hear it..

Audio sourced from the Northern Ireland Assembly – subject to Parliamentary copyright.

If you sent an objection in to DRD, why not follow it up with a complaint that your objection has been effectively disregarded?

Northern Ireland taxis are now…sustainable? Really?!

The whole world will shortly be coming to Northern Ireland to learn how we’ve solved that pesky problem of motor vehicles wrecking the environment. A saloon car taxi (typical of the roughly 1,500 Belfast private hire vehicles) might carry an average of 1-2 passengers per fare, and yet DRD are claiming sustainability is no longer an issue! Listen to this:

Audio sourced from the Northern Ireland Assembly – subject to Parliamentary copyright.

In a public policy exercise as intellectually bankrupt and dishonest as taxis in bus lanes, this marks a new low.

All those saloon cars driving around with 1-2 passengers are perfectly sustainable, as long as they are designated so by government.

DRD should pass this trick on to the Department for Finance and Personnel. Northern Ireland can dump Air Passenger Duty for short haul flights too by simply designating all aircraft as ‘sustainable’. I think Sammy Wilson might actually be game enough to try it..

Another taxi in a cycle box Belfast
Dirty polluting taxi about to magically become a sustainable vehicle

.

Why damage journey times for 13.5% of commuters, for the sake of 2.9% of commuters?

There are no government targets to increase taxi usage – why would there be? Yet this entire policy seems entirely designed for that one purpose. Meanwhile, by the hard numbers from Census 2011 again, 13.5% of people use buses to get to work. In terms of sustainable objectives, reducing rush hour traffic and increasing revenue take for Translink, more bus passengers is a big goal for Belfast.

Just 2.9% of people used a taxi as their main form of transport to work in 2011, down from 4% in 2001.

Metro and Bus Rapid Transit efficiency of service will be one of the big factors which determine success of public transport in Belfast. The consultation itself recognised that taxis in bus lanes would have a negative impact on buses. A report from Amey in 2008 stated “bus lanes are currently underperforming against targets…additional vehicles in the bus lane … would probably contribute to further reduced bus journey speeds”.

How destructive can one little policy be?!

.

What is really driving this policy?

Taxi firms must have some truly amazing lobbying powers. Northern Ireland’s wonderfully transparent political system doesn’t allow us the luxury of seeing donations to political parties. So we’re left to wonder why such a poorly designed policy is being railroaded through a hostile consultation exercise, and if the policy wonks have given any weight to the potential damage it could cause?

Is Minister Kennedy running the risk of fatally undermining both Belfast Rapid Transit and the city’s blossoming cycling potential? Two birds, one stone – well it’s more efficient than a Belfast bus lane.

.

What the people say about taxis in bus lanes

7 thoughts on “DRD determined to halt Belfast cycling progress?

    1. Thanks for your interest in the post!

      Best to give any single occurance the benefit of the doubt – the images themselves are not conclusive proof of an offence, but they’re there to illustrate a wider problem of lack of respect, road knowledge and enforcement.

      I prefer to pick a fight with policy makers, not punters, where possible!

      Check back with the blog – one of the next posts will be using 6 months of footage (where these images are taken from) to measure the true level of ASL blocking in Belfast. Seeing the early data, it provides clear insight into useless ‘infrastructure’.

  1. I cycle into work in Belfast, mainly using bus lanes. Buses for their size can be intimidating, but I find the vast majority of bus drivers are courteous to cyclists. But I can’t foresee ‘profit driven’ taxi drivers giving us cyclists the same level of courtesy, or even the same space when overtaking.

    This policy has both ‘hidden agendas’ and ‘pure madness’ written all over it.

  2. I was interested to see the owner of Fon-a-cab defending his “professional” drivers on the UTV news tonight…. If I’m not mistaken there’s two of his drivers caught in the still pictures on this very page in the middle of the advanced stop zone – you would think “professional” drivers such as his would be able to see the big green box on the road with the drawing of a bike in it….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s