Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has suggested a period of grace could be granted for taxi drivers around the introduction of fare meters in May.
The SDLP representative said he took the “unorthodox step” of using social media to try and get feedback from the industry and users.
Speaking to the ‘Journal,’ Mr Durkan said: “The Taxis Act was passed by the Assembly almost eight years ago, long before my time in the Assembly, with the aspiration of modernising the taxi industry to provide a fit for purpose service and afford protections for customers, particularly those with a disability.
“One key aspect of this legislation is the mandatory installation of meters in taxis and it is the enactment of this particular regulation that has caused recent concern, controversy and confusion across Derry in recent weeks.”
He added: “I fully appreciate the importance of taxis in this city. Not only do they help us go about our business; getting to work and school, going shopping and getting out and about but they also provide a lifeline to many older people.
“I also recognise the efforts of taxi drivers across Derry and the difficulties that they have faced in recent years with increasing costs not reflected in the fares charged.
“There has been some scaremongering that the implementation of meters will result in fares here, which have historically been very low, sky-rocketing and rendering taxis unaffordable for many people. This is not the case. Meters can and, I have no doubt, will be calibrated here in a fashion that does not result in fares spiralling beyond affordability.
“However, many drivers do see this as an opportunity to address the antiquated fare structure here to ensure fairness of pay for them and I would sympathise with them in this regard.”
Speaking after asking taxi drivers via Facebook whether they felt that a postponement in the introduction of meters would be beneficial, he said: “Meters are to be installed by May 31st. In response to concerns expressed to me by drivers about the affordability of meters and by fitters around their capacity to meet demand in the short time frame, I took the unorthodox step of using social media to canvass the opinions of drivers on whether or not it would be advantageous to push that date back a few months.
“My rationale was that it could help give drivers time to save and also to resolve some ongoing issues between drivers and companies around the use of meters.
“It seems from responses I have received that many drivers are keen to stick to the original date. If that is the case, I will ensure that DOE afford taxi drivers a grace period, immune from enforcement of this regulation, beyond this. Many feel aggrieved that they had not been adequately consulted on the original legislation - which, as I have said, took place several years ago. That is why I believe it is important to seek their views and I welcome any feedback. I have engaged with many drivers on this issue and will continue to do so.
“I will ensure that DOE provides any guidance it can to drivers and offices.
“However, while DOE has imposed a maximum fare, the Government does not have the legislative power to control what fares are charged by drivers and offices below this maximum.”