The Party’s Infrastructure Spokesperson – whose background is in community transport – led a cross-party delegation after it was revealed a proposed change, made without any consultation or public consultation, could remove the ‘grandfather’ rights enabling community workers and teachers to drive a minibus from November 1.
Kellie Armstrong said: “Following the meeting yesterday, the Department will now issue clarification communications this week, providing drivers and community organisations with the correct information after what has been an unsettling time for many.
“We must ensure that everyone is aware of the changes, which will give drivers three to six months to apply and pass their commercial D1 driving test. It was good to hear DFI acknowledge that as long as a driver has made an application and has a provisional D1 license, they will be able to continue to drive a minibus as long as they pass the test before the end of March 2018 and I hope this will be communicated widely.
“I am disappointed that the commercial operators who have gone ahead with a legal challenge against DFI have done so with the knowledge that it will directly impact services for the most vulnerable and isolated people across NI. This actions has meant older people, people with disabilities, children and isolated rural dwellers will now have a reduced service, likely to cost more.”
Kellie added: “It is also worth noting that this action will not improve road safety – if that was the case the Department would be removing all minibus driving rights.
“The Department is only making changes to those who drive minibuses where a grant or non-profit making fare for transport helps to cover costs. It is a sad day for access in NI when people’s opportunities are being reduced thanks to the actions of some commercial organisations.”