As the Deputy is aware, under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, the NTA is the independent regulator of the taxi, hackney and limousine sector. Technically, these are known under the legislation as small public service vehicles, or SPSVs. As the regulator, the NTA is responsible for the development and operation of a regulatory framework for this sector.
In line with that responsibility the NTA is undertaking a review of key aspects of taxi, hackney and limousine operations with the intention of developing a five year strategy for the SPSV industry that will guide its regulatory development over that timeframe.
With the assistance and input of the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles, the NTA review is considering a variety of issues including issues like vehicle licensing, vehicle standards, driver licensing, wheelchair accessible vehicles, fixed payment offences and technological developments.
The NTA intends to conduct a public consultation process in the first half of 2019 in relation to the proposals emerging from the review process. As part of that procedure, public representatives will have the opportunity to submit their views. If any recommendations emerging from the review involve a significant revision of a policy nature or if they require legislative change, then these would clearly be subject to full consideration by the Department and final decision by me.
To answer the second part of the Deputy's question, the starting point for considering access to bus lanes is that they were created - at some expense to the public - to provide on-street priority for bus-based public transport. Their goal is to make bus transport faster and more reliable, thereby encouraging more people to switch from private cars to public transport. This will achieve the twin goals of reducing congestion and reducing pollution.
In addition to buses, bus lanes may also be used by cyclists who, as vulnerable road users, are safer in bus lanes than in general traffic. The lanes may also, of course, be used by the emergency services. Finally, after the lanes were originally introduced it was decided to allow only one category of SPSV - namely taxis - to use them. This was a concession based on the fact that taxis are a form of public transport available for on-street hire.
Since bus lanes were first introduced, there have been many requests to allow other classes of traffic to use the lanes. These have included requests on behalf of motorcyclists, multi-occupancy vehicles, electric vehicles, hired limousines, hackneys, and animal ambulances, among others. My predecessors and I have always rejected these requests. Any addition to the categories of vehicle permitted to use the lanes would inevitably reduce their efficiency for performing their original purpose of prioritising bus-based public transport.