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Northern Ireland taxi rules ‘strangling’ wedding and funeral car sector

There have been calls for an overhaul of legislation around taxis in Northern Ireland, with wedding and funeral car operators branding the current situation “madness” and saying it is “strangling” businesses.

nlike in the rest of the UK, wedding and funeral cars here are classed as taxis and have to follow the same regulations, such as those regarding taxi driving tests, license application fees and Public Service Vehicle (PSV) tests.

Since 2014 — when the laws came into force — the number of licensed taxi drivers here has decreased by 46% (from 15,802 to 8,555) and many have left the industry over the course of the pandemic.

With the pass rate for the taxi theory test at an average of 21.9%, many potential drivers are being put off joining the industry.

Mike Barr of the NI Wedding Vehicle Association, who runs a wedding car business, explained that it costs £108 more for such cars to undergo a PSV test, as required for taxis, compared to a regular MoT. As wedding and funeral car firms operate fleets of classic cars, with an average of 10-15 weddings or funerals each year, and many cars being 50 years old, this can have a significant financial impact on businesses. “Wedding and funeral cars should not be classified as taxis, that is our main concern. They’re not in England, Scotland and Wales. The Government has imposed a one-size-fits-all set of regulations that were geared towards modern- day taxis. We’re part of the wedding and funeral industry, not the taxi industry,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Barr said a big issue is the lack of drivers, which is impacting the taxi sector and, in turn, the wedding and funeral car sector.

“I am not against regulation, but I want our vehicles to be classed as wedding and funeral cars — the same as my insurance companies class me,” he said.

“Many of my drivers would be retired and want to work on a casual basis and the palaver of hoops they have to jump through is crazy. The theory test — I’ve had an advanced driver fail it three times. The pass rate is incredibly low. We’ve been banging our heads against a wall for years. All these regulations, tests and licenses are costing a fortune. It costs £500 to obtain and maintain a taxi license for each driver. It’s ridiculous.

“Weddings, funerals, taxis — no one can get drivers because of this excessive legislation. Businesses are being strangled.”

Stephen Anton, communications manager at Fonacab, said the lack of drivers is not just affecting the taxi industry, but hospitality businesses and wider society. “Prior to 2014, a taxi driver had to have a standard driving license, the correct amount of post-qualification experience, an Access NI check, and had to pass a medical. Around 85% of drivers who are driving today got their license under those requirements, now there are so many more regulations needed,” he said.

“If you can’t get a taxi on a Saturday night, then you are going to see people not going out and supporting hospitality, or you’re going to see a rise in illegal taxis. Even worse, you’ll see an increase in drink driving.”

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said: “I wrote to the wedding car sector on 21 December 2021 to advise that the department would not be granting certificates of exemption (to wedding and funeral cars not to be classed as taxis). This decision was reached after much deliberation and consideration of the effect of such an exemption in terms of public road safety given the requirement to regulate those who drive for hire and reward which includes the wedding car and funeral car industries.”

Ms Mallon added that a comprehensive review of the Taxis Act would require extensive legislative and policy consideration and there is not enough time to complete this work in the current Assembly mandates.

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